SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The ups and downs Zeke Motta has experienced in four seasons at Notre Dame will be validated by the final game of his college career.
The senior free safety of the 12-0 Irish has been through a 6-6, bowl-less campaign, a high-profile coaching change, he has switched positions and also watched this season as his secondary was crushed by injuries.
So as he prepares for the Jan. 7 BCS Championship Game against Alabama -- the programs first national title game appearance in 24 seasons --- Motta knows he has been more than repaid for an already-enjoyable four years in South Bend. As if the chance to play for a national title isnt enough already, Motta also gets to play in Miami, a little more than two hours from where he grew up in Vero Beach, Fla.
I dont think Ive had a better reward in my life at this point, Motta said. Being able to say that I played at Notre Dame, my senior year 12-0 and now I have a chance to compete for the national championship -- its the biggest reward that Ive had. So yeah, its pretty awesome.
Members of the Irish staff have used the same superlatives this season to describe Mottas play.
Coach Brian Kelly singled Motta --- who has 61 tackles, two passes defended and a fumble recovery --- out in a press conference earlier this month for his incredible play and leadership in the secondary. When you consider the turmoil caused by injuries its easy to understand why.
Expected starter junior Lo Wood hasnt played a down at cornerback after he ruptured his Achilles in preseason camp while Jamoris Slaughter tore his Achilles in the teams third game. Those injuries forced KeiVarae Russell, who never played corner before August, and Matthias Farley, a converted wide receiver, to take starting roles in the secondary. Corner Bennett Jackson, another convert, also is in his first season as a defensive starter.
The inexperienced group has led Motta, who had played in 38 games through his first three seasons, to modify his game.
Jamoris had been the guy that had kind of driven the engine back there and made a lot of the decisions and communication, safeties coach Bob Elliott said. And Zeke really worked off Jamoris. When Jamoris went down, Zeke had to assume that role. He did a really good job of that, getting our guys lined up, making the right checks. Zeke really came a long way in that respect.
Motta attributed much of the way he adapted to previous seasons to when he played alongside Harrison Smith, who now plays for the Minnesota Vikings. He also enjoys how the secondary has developed from inexperienced bunch full of question marks to a strong suit.
I realize these guys are out here and they need somebody to communicate and be on the same page, Motta said. Thats kind of the role I accepted and it was great to see how our players on the back end competed and shook off all the negative hype and stuff like that and came to work each day ready to play.
Motta has done the same throughout his career. He began as a linebacker in 2009 and rotated between there and safety for Charlie Weis squad. Weis was fired after the 2009 season and Kelly took over. Even though he accumulated 16 starts over his first three seasons, Motta didnt get a full-time opportunity until this season. As far as Motta sees it, its all part of the journey, one he has enjoyed thoroughly.
To be a part of this program for the past four years, its been so memorable, Motta said. I couldnt ask to come to a better place, especially to see the evolution and the way things have kind of progressively gotten better and better since Ive been here. Theyve brought in all great coaches and great chemistry and everybody has pretty much the same mentality. That has helped shape me into the person I am and the player I am and Im a better man for it.