Old Man Farley

A calendar year removed from redshirt-freshman status, boundary safety Matthias Farley now serves as the most experienced among a young, deep, talented, and unproven collection of safeties in South Bend. His message for his younger charges: Don't think, just play.

Eleven starts (including one at linebacker), 13 games played, 49 tackles (including a pair of season-savers behind scrimmage defending the Irish goal line), an interception (and 49-yard return), a broken hand (replete with two plates and six screws inserted without a game missed as a result), and likely, just-missed folk-hero status in the wake of a drubbing at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Yes, had Notre Dame won the national championship last season, Matthias Farley -- then a redshirt-freshman and college DB neophyte -- would've long-been remembered in Irish annals as one of a handful of "Next Man In" unexpected blessings that aided head coach Brian Kelly's third-edition South Benders in their title journey.

Instead, "job-well-done" status will have to suffice. But the absence of a ring on Farley's finger likely accelerated his preparation for improvement -- team and self -- in 2013.

"I felt very well-prepared throughout last season but there was a point where I definitely felt the game slow down for me," said Farley, who's first start at safety came in Week Four under the lights vs. Michigan. "Whether it was nerves or whatever, it was just being able to play fast and not think, 'What if I do this, or this?'"

Farley used the time since -- spring ball, summer 7-on-7s, and film sessions throughout to brush up on his assignments. The goal for the last Saturday in August and a date with Temple:

Don't think, just play.

"Film is such a huge aspect of the game, you really can't watch it enough," Farley offered. "As a safety group we watch film a couple of times a week all summer. I think that benefits myself and everyone else. Its unbelievable, even going through spring was a refresher course. 'Ok, I get this better.'

Such as?

"Being quicker, seeing things faster, getting out of breaks faster, understanding concepts of what the offense is trying to do and taking better angles. It takes a lot of the thinking out of it and you just get to play, which I'm very excited about."

His cohorts -- and in most cases, understudies -- will likely struggle with that, to borrow a phrase from former offensive coordinator Charley Molnar, "unconscious competence."

"It's necessary for them," Farley said of the safeties, "but that's for any position. When you can not think and just play and react -- when you take out all the what-if's out and maybes, and you just know what you need to do, it makes all the difference in the world."

While it gets better with each practice rep and film nugget digested, there's no greater teaching tool than game action.

"We get great reps during practice, honestly, those full-speed live situations give you the revelation, 'Oh, that's what it is!" Going through 7-on-7s without pads is different. Strap those (pads) on and it makes it a lot more real and easier to pick it up."

Farley is set as the team's boundary safety. Common belief is that senior Austin Collinsworth -- out last season with a torn labrum and subsequent back injury -- will provide backup strength there while vying for nickel and dime package jobs as well. That leaves a host of field safety candidates led by spring starter Elijah Shumate and his classmate, Nicky Baratti, now healthy and ready to roll after off-season shoulder surgery.

"Nicky looked really good coming off the shoulder injury," said Farley. "He was really (mentally) involved in the spring getting in reps when he could. After that layoff it takes a second but he looks great. Shumate's knowledge is continuing to grow, he's picking up things faster, and Austin looks like Austin before he got hurt."

Each would do well to follow Farley's example: bring the film room to the practice field to Saturday's main stage.

Then and only then can they go out and "just play."

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