NOTRE DAME — In the game of football, Matthias Farley knows better than anyone that brains can be paramount to brawn.
Sure, a tailback has to be quick to punch through a defensive line. Sure, an offensive line has to push that sleigh time and time again to be bigger and stronger than their defensive counterparts.
But no amount of deadlifting or tackling dummy drills will sharpen a player’s intuitive adaptability. So when a wide receiver who started playing the game three years ago is suddenly asked to be the starting safety of an undefeated Notre Dame team, he has to rely on something beyond physical talents.
Enter Farley, who was thrust into the spotlight after fifth-year senior safety Jamoris Slaughter went down with an Achilles injury against Michigan State.
As safeties coach Bob Elliott watched Farley grow, the 33-year coaching veteran was struck by the safety’s smarts and adaptability.
“He’s a really bright kid, so he’s a quick study,” Elliott said. “He’s willing to take the extra time to work on his game. Every night after practice, he comes in to my office and we watch that day’s practice together. Every night since the spring.”
Farley said he sits in the film room with fellow safeties Zeke Motta and Nicky Baratti and breaks down practice that day to see what improvements he’s made and what he still needs to work on.
Farley said having Elliott as a mentor and resource is a “huge asset” to his growth as a safety.
“He knows a ridiculous amount about football,” Farley said of his coach.
Farley had seen some playing time in games against Navy and Purdue, but he wasn’t called upon as a starter until Slaughter went down against Michigan State. That, Farley said, is when everything clicked for him.
“I came in really calm,” he said. “I usually come in calm, but it was a different kind of situation going into a game knowing that Jamoris probably wasn’t coming back.”
Though Farley’s rise from soccer player to a safety with 43 tackles and an interception returned for 49 yards is surprising, it’s hardly shocking.
He’s the fifth of six highly successful Farley children. His 13-year-old brother does ballet in New York City. Timon Farley played professional basketball in Europe. Nathan Farley was a tight end at Coastal Carolina.
“He’s a beautiful kid, his whole family is that way,” Elliott said. “He comes from a family of high achievers. He knows what he’s doing. No question that his family, his background has made him who he is, just like everybody else on our team.
“He comes from a family where nothing less than high achievement is acceptable. He comes from a family that has given him confidence to go do things.”
Elliott joked that he wished the Farleys’ talents rubbed off on him.
Farley can add to list of family achievements with a win over Alabama in the national championship game on Jan. 7.
For that to happen, Farley knows he and Motta will have to cool down Crimson Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron, who has 2,669 passing yards, a 66.8 completion percentage and 26 touchdowns to three interceptions this season.
“He’s the most efficient quarterback in the country if you look at stats,” Farley said. “He manages games well, he’s a very good thrower, he extends plays. He has every trait you’d want in a quarterback. He’s led his team to this game before so he’s a huge weapon to have on Alabama’s side of the ball.”