Evolving role at ND hasn't changed Matthias Farley

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Control has been the essence of Matthias Farley’s football career at Notre Dame.

Prepare. Stay positive. And focus only on those things that can be controlled.

Nobody said it was going to be easy.

Every athlete — no matter the level; no matter the sport — should be mandated to study Farley’s career and the way in which he has navigated it.

Class. Intensity. Success. Unwavering leadership.

After a broken ankle as a freshman, Farley was moved from a scout-team receiver to front-line safety.

• Eleven starts as a redshirt freshman safety, including the national championship game, allowed Farley to collect 49 tackles and an interception against Stanford.

• The next year, he started just eight games at safety, again accumulating 49 tackles with two picks.

• Redshirt junior year, he changed position to nickel back: Four starts, 53 tackles, 6½ tackles for loss, four interceptions.

• Graduate student season, backup safety, special teams captain, leader in the locker room: Eight tackles through three games heading into Saturday’s game with UMass, including four and a forced fumble in last week’s win over Georgia Tech while stepping in for the injured Drue Tranquill in the second half.

Even though his role has continued to evolve and his participation diminished, Farley’s approach and his attitude hasn’t.

“I don't try to make a role for myself,” the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Farley said. “I just try to control what I can control, which is my attitude and my effort. Those things I can change, whether I'm playing 100 snaps a game or none.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that Farley is content with the dwindling opportunities.

“It bothers him,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said of Farley’s role. “He's competitive. I've had to have talks with him about being prepared and being ready. He doesn't like it. He wants to be out there starting. He believes that he can help this football team as a starter. But he's one of those guys that makes this 2015 football team special in that he'll do whatever is necessary for the good of the team.”

When he did get the call, in the framework of a special defense constructed to put the clamps on the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense, he responded with some dynamic plays — including the forced fumble that Jaylon Smith scooped up, setting the tone in the second half.

“It just comes from preparation,” Farley said. “We have a philosophy of the 'next man in,' which we harp on week-in and week-out. It's been that way since I've been here. You have to prepare like a starter because who knows what could happen on a Saturday and your number gets called, so you have to be ready.”

But, shouldn’t a captain be beyond that sort of spot duty?

“A captain's role is to lead and it doesn't always have to be on every single down,” Farley said. “I know a lot of guys look to me for advice on different things or something to keep them positive. It doesn't necessarily have to be a ‘play 100 plays a game’ kind of deal. I love being a captain and I'm very comfortable in that element.

“I try to encourage people. That's what had the biggest impact on me when I was younger, and even older, when people would just take the time to encourage me; somebody that believed in me or whatever, it makes a big difference.”

In that sense, Farley has been able to be a difference-maker even from his perch on the sidelines.

“(Farley) makes a huge impact in special teams, as well as he does so many jobs, and is counted on on defense as somebody that makes plays,” said Kelly. “He's a veteran. He's somebody that mentors all the young guys. He carries such a huge amount of respect from not only his class, but the younger players, as well.”

“He’s a baller,” said fellow captain Joe Schmidt. “He’s a connector. He can relate to everybody on this football team.”

“I'm just a people person,” Farley said. “I have a big family. I have six brothers and sisters. Growing up, it was nine of us, including my parents, in a very small house. If you don't communicate, if you don't work together, if you don't vocalize what you're thinking about a particular thing or ask…; for me it was my brothers and sisters growing up, like how they were doing and vice versa. It's a very strange dynamic to be around that many people and not have a relationship with them.”

After answering the bell when Tranquill was injured against Georgia Tech, Farley will return to the limbo of the backup safety role against the Minutemen. Max Redfield, who was out last week with a broken thumb, is expected to be back against a UMass offense premised on the pass.

“It's exciting to be a DB in a game like this, because there is a lot of opportunities to make plays,” Farley said. “You have to really, really be focused and locked in very similarly to playing a triple-option team to each and every play refocusing and resetting and making sure you're doing your job each and every play.”

Control what can be controlled — no matter the role.

Notre Dame’s Joe Schmidt (38) and Matthias Farley (41) stand together during the alma mater following the 30-22 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN