SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As Matthias Farley made his way off the field at Sun Life Stadium in January, fellow safety Jamoris Slaughter caught up with him. As the two dodged confetti and gleeful Alabama players, Slaughter had a message for him: "Remember the taste in your mouth right now, and let that fuel your offseason."
Three months later, Slaughter is gone. So too is Zeke Motta, meaning Farley is the most experienced safety on Notre Dame's roster. Notre Dame has plenty of talent there, with Elijah Shumate, Nicky Baratti, Austin Collinsworth and -- in a few months -- incoming freshman Max Redfield competing for playing time. But it'll be up to Farley, who only switched to safety from wide receiver a year ago, to provide veteran leadership to the group.
"This time last year, I was just learning everything, so definitely I’m still learning as I go, but I’m trying to help people along just as Zeke and Jamoris did last year," Farley said. "It’s crazy to me, though -- so much has happened in a year."
At this time in 2012, Notre Dame safeties coach Bob Elliot wasn't sure Farley would contribute on anything more than special teams during his sophomore year. But he made the leap last spring and summer, and when Slaughter went down in Week 3 with a torn Achilles' tendon, he got his chance. Now, he has another leap to make, going from being a serviceable safety to a traffic director and leader in the Irish secondary.
"It’s a big jump from last year, but the coaches have a lot of faith in me and I know I have to step up and be more vocal, Farley said. "And I have the most experience out of the group so far, so it’s just -- last year my role was stepping in, this year my role is to help other people along and to continue to develop myself."
Collinsworth thinks Farley's more than ready for that increased role.
"Matthias is a really good leader, and he knows a lot in the defensive backfield," Collinsworth said. "So he’s done a great job both coaching up guys and really leading from the front."
Brian Kelly has talked about identifying the next Farley, the next player to make that leap in spring practice. Farley pointed to safety Eilar Hardy as being that guy who could wind up competing for playing time come August following a solid spring.
Farley's been preparing for this job ever since Slaughter put his arm around him in Miami Gardens. He doesn't have the veteran expertise of Slaughter or Motta to go to -- he's the guy now. When Shumate or Collinsworth or Hardy has a question, they'll go to him -- even though last spring, Farley was nothing more than a greenhorn learning the ropes of being a safety.
"It really hits you when the guys leave after the bowl game and they’re not back," Farley said. "So for myself, I knew I had to step up and make sure I was even more accountable than last year now that I’m in a different role this year."