Competing for title is biggest reward of Motta's life

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Competing for title is biggest reward of Motta's life

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.

White Sox Road Ahead: Facing Chris Sale and the Red Sox

White Sox Road Ahead: Facing Chris Sale and the Red Sox

It'll be tough for Chris Sale to be humble when he makes his return to Chicago and faces his old teammates on Tuesday, but he'll do his best.

The former White Sox ace will face off against his old team as a member of the Red Sox (coverage begins at 6:30 on CSN with White Sox Pregame Live) and Dan Hayes and Siera Santos discussed what the atmosphere will be like on this week's Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda dealers. Sale has dominated in his first season in Boston, going 5-2 with a 2.34 ERA.

Sale met with the Chicago media on Monday morning, and Hayes said the biggest takeaway from that presser was just how much Sale appreciated his time in Chicago.

"I think the fact that he realizes how important this was, how much he grew up with the White Sox," Hayes said in the video above. "He talked about that at length. Obviously last year was a little bit of a rouigh year, there were quite a few incidents, he said there were some blips on the radar, but mostly (he) had good times here than (he) had bad times and he said it's what has made him who he is. and he realizes that he apprecaites what he was able to accomplish here. misses the fans buit he's also moved on and he's doing well with the white sox."

See what else Siera and Dan had to say in the video above.

Jose Quintana on Tuesday opponent Chris Sale: 'He was the best teammate I ever played with'

Jose Quintana on Tuesday opponent Chris Sale: 'He was the best teammate I ever played with'

The majority of the talk surrounding Tuesday night's pitching matchup at Guaranteed Rate Field will be focused on the guy pitching against the White Sox.

Chris Sale returned to the South Side for the first time since being traded to the Boston Red Sox this past offseason, and he'll take the mound against his former teammates Tuesday. But the White Sox, who traded away one of the best pitchers in baseball, will be sending another All-Star hurler to the mound to oppose Sale.

Jose Quintana gets the ball for the White Sox, and while the attention will be squarely on Sale — and the emotions he does or does not show and the reaction he receives from the fans — Quintana will have his own emotional roller coaster going on, pitching against a guy who served as a mentor of sorts for the first five seasons of his career.

"Throwing on the same day will be a different feeling for me because he was the best teammate I ever played with," Quintana said. "It will be a different feeling watching him go against me after the last four years when he was my teammate. We talked last night. He said, ‘Hey, I’m in town. I can’t wait to see you guys.’ So I’m excited to play against him."

Sale had a few years on Quintana in major league service, but the duo looked like they would be a near-untouchable 1-2 combo at the front of the White Sox pitching rotation for years to come.

They both represented the White Sox at the All-Star Game last season and both finished in the top 10 in voting for the American League Cy Young Award.

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Sale was shipped to the Red Sox to start the White Sox rebuilding effort, breaking up that duo leading the staff. But as is often the case, it's not the performances and the statistics that Quintana misses the most about Sale but rather the qualities he brought as a teammate.

"I learned from his focus on the game and his passion for baseball," Quintana said. "We talked a lot over the years. But the first thing I learned from him was focus.

"I miss him. He was one of my best teammates ever that I played with. I understand it was part of the game. It’s a business and that happens. ... I miss his energy. We have a lot of guys here with energy too, but I miss the energy he had every time we talked in the dugout, watching the game."

Sale is having one of the best campaigns of any pitcher in baseball through the season's first two months. And while Quintana's start has been shaky at times, he's still the White Sox ace. It's that standing, though, that has had his name the subject of plenty of trade rumors during the offseason, spring training and since Opening Day. There is an expectation, warranted or not, that he will soon join Sale in departing the White Sox for a big prospect haul.

Until then, though, Quintana is taking over for Sale as the team's No. 1. The two old mates will go head to head Tuesday night in a monumental matchup, and Quintana is already projecting that focus he learned from Sale.

"I have just one game, and I have my focus on throwing the ball well for my team, to get a 'W.' That’s my focus every time, to do my job," Quintana said. "It will be a different feeling because I’m pitching against him, but I don’t want to pay attention to the other team. I just want to do my job."