NOTRE DAME — Matthias Farley saw Jamoris Slaughter collapse on the grass at Spartan Stadium.
Moments later, the fifth-year safety limped off the field, each arm around an athletic trainer’s shoulder.
Farley was given word that he’d be playing the next defensive series, but before he took the field, he headed over to where Slaughter sat on the team bench.
Slaughter waved off Farley’s words of concern and sent the sophomore off with a quick piece of advice: “You know what you have to do.”
By the end of the game, Slaughter donned crutches and an immobilizing boot. The next day, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly announced Slaughter had ruptured the Achilles tendon in his left foot and would be out for the season.
Suddenly, Farley, the sophomore safety who started playing football only four years ago, was thrust into the spotlight.
Four years after trading soccer cleats for football pads and one year after switching from receiver to safety, Farley now finds himself as a starting safety against Michigan’s Denard Robinson, one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in college football on Saturday.
“It’s crazy to me to think how it all started and how it all began,” Farley said of his quick ascent into the football world. “I’m sure it’s even crazier on the outside looking in.”
Farley won’t be completely green going into the Michigan game. He’s racked up six tackles in Notre Dame’s first three games, only two behind Slaughter’s total.
Farley’s also earned an early endorsement from Kelly, who was pleased with his young safety’s performance against Navy.
“He played close to the ball against Navy and played very well for a start,” Kelly said. “So we feel comfortable that he’s played close to the ball. He’s got really good ball skills. He’s just got to play more. He’s just got to continue to gain experience back there.
“Jamoris was an experienced veteran. We are losing a great piece there,” Kelly continued. “But I don’t think you can limit yourself in that respect that you can’t spin a guy down from his position or you’re going to get taken advantage of.”
Through it all, Slaughter hasn’t left Farley’s side. He watches game films with Farley, gives him coaching tips.
“After we were walking off the field at Michigan State, he said, ‘You have to step up, Matthias. I didn’t try to teach you all that stuff for no reason,’” Farley recalled. “He’s been in my corner and really encouraging me.”
Farley will join fellow safety Zeke Motta, the only remaining defensive back with experience in the secondary before this season, and cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell.
Like Farley, Jackson was recruited as a receiver. Russell came to Notre Dame as a running back. Farley said no one dwells on their offensive roots, though.
“Everybody has settled into the roles they have,” he said. “Maybe they didn’t come in doing the roles that they are doing now, but everyone is working real hard and the fruit of everyone’s labor is being seen as far as the play goes.”