NOTRE DAME — Matthias Farley doesn’t have the football pedigree that most of his teammates have.
He never pulled on a Pop Warner jersey for Pee Wees. His summer breaks weren’t full of football camps at local colleges.
In fact, he never intended to play football at all.
Now he’s first in line to back up starting safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta in the Notre Dame secondary.
“My brothers played football, my brothers played basketball, I just wanted to do something different (in high school),” the sophomore said. “I didn’t want it to be like, ‘Oh, there’s so-and-so’s little brother.’”
So he joined the soccer team at Christian High School in Charlotte, N.C.
While he watched his friends on the football team make the state playoffs his freshman and sophomore years, Farley struggled to stay interested in soccer.
“I loved (soccer), but I kind of got burnt out,” Farley said. “All of my good friends were on the football team. So after my sophomore year, I was in the weight room and the football coach, Jason Estep, said, ‘Farley, come on man, just play football. Just try it.’”
So he decided to give it a shot and joined the team as a receiver.
“I was like a baby out there,” he said of his first few practices. “I didn’t know what I was doing, so I would just run go routes on the offense. I put on my water wings. It was a big learning experience.”
By the end of the year, Farley had recorded 37 receptions for 900 yards and 12 touchdowns.
By the end of his senior year, Farley racked up another 37 catches for 600 yards and 10 touchdowns while pulling double duty as a defensive back with 49 tackles and an interception.
He was named one of the top 25 players in North Carolina by the Charlotte Observer in 2010 and was pursued by schools like Notre Dame, Maryland, UCLA and Wisconsin.
So much for the water wings.
“It was really a blessing,” Farley said of his speedy ascent. “You can’t script something like that. You play football a year and get college offers. I attribute a lot of it to my high school coaches and other players that were there that went to big schools, so coaches that were there to see them also saw me.”
Farley is noticing that same level of support from his Notre Dame coaches and older teammates.
He was recruited by Notre Dame as a receiver but was flipped over to safety in 2012 to help bulk up an experience-challenged secondary.
He says he has a good group of teachers to help him ease into the transition.
“Jamrois and Zeke and (safeties) Coach (Bob) Elliott have really been in my corner since the beginning, staying after to watch film or give tips out on the field,” Farley said. “I’m trying to take that and put it into my game. I’m really take coaching from Coach Elliott, as well, and really trying not to make the same mistakes as I did the day before.”
With Navy and a flight to Dublin, Ireland, right around the corner, Farley says things are falling into place for him.
“I’m sure you’ve all experienced it at one point in your life,” Farley said to a flock of reporters. “Someone will tell you something and tell you something and tell you something, and it you don’t quite get it, and one day, it just clicks. so I’d say Day 3 or 4 (of pre-season camp), everything started to make sense and slow down and make the transition a lot smoother.”
Farley sprang into the spotlight toward the end of camp when he took first-team reps in place of Slaughter, who sat out with a bruised heel.
“Farley has done very, very well,” head coach Brian Kelly said after that practice. “I think he’s changed the dynamics back there. I know I had spoke that (Dan) McCarthy had that position locked up. Well, it’s a battle now. Farley has really been impressive the last 10 days or so.”
Now with cornerback Lo Wood sidelined for the season, Farley may even be considered for the opening at starting corner, marking his second position change in less than a year.
Fear not, Irish fans.
If he can pick up a position change like he picked up the entire game of football, Notre Dame might be in good hands.