In Good Company

Fans of Max Redfield, and Max Redfield, alike, would do well to remember the nearly identical career arcs of Notre Dame's top tier safeties over the last two decades at the program.

2012 first-round draft pick Harrison Smith sat and watched his first season in South Bend.

So too did 2013 sixth-round pick Jamoris Slaughter and 2004 fourth-round pick Glen Earl, third-round pick Tom Zbikowski and Denver Broncos free agent Kyle McCarthy.

As for former first-team USA Today All-America and Baltimore Ravens sixth-round draft pick Gerome Sapp -- the sixth-rated football player as a high school senior in 1999? He played every week for Bob Davie's Irish, but largely on special teams and for a 5-7 football team, to boot.

Sapp's case, along with that of recently graduated safety Zeke Motta (2013 seventh-round pick) and under-recruited David Bruton (2009 fourth-round selection) before him most closely resembles current freshman safety prodigy Max Redfield's -- too athletic to keep from the field, but not yet seasoned enough in the proceedings to run the show along the all-important back line.

Special teams beckon. Frustration for lack of scrimmage time, follows.

"It's humbling," said's No. 5 rated safety from 2013. "You're not the greatest player out there. You're not. You have to understand that. You're going to make mistakes when you want to play at a higher level and be in a better spot. But I've been learning a lot each week and I'm in the position I should be."

That position is as a starter on the Irish kickoff coverage, kickoff return, and punt return units.

But safety, a spot not consistently kind to his Irish teammates this fall, has not presented an opportunity for playing time through six contests.

"Once the coaches feel I'm adequate to get more playing time, i'm sure I'll be in there," said Redfield who recently moved into the team's two-deep. "I feel like I'll always have more to learn. It'd be silly for me to say I grasp everything perfectly. But I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the defense. It's complex, there are many parts to it, so obviously I can't say I know the whole thing, but I get more week-by-week."

The Numbers Game

The position includes some of the stiffest competition, if not proven commodities, on the roster. Junior Matthias Farley lost his starting job to sophomore Elijah Shumate, though he plays regularly (as much as Shumate). Senior Austin Collinsworth starts too, and is part of a three-man rotation at present, a player capable of starting at both field and boundary.

Redfield? His recent move from the field side to boundary side, has his head spinning again.

"I just switched sides which kind of threw me off a little bit," said Redfield. "It's just getting acclimated to the speed and intricacies of the position. It's adjusting to the speed of the game and adjusting to the calls, being demonstrative with the calls once you learn them. That's probably been the hardest thing."

It proved too tough for Harrison Smith early in his Irish career, too, but by the time his senior and fifth seasons (2010-11) rolled around, Smith had been dubbed "Boy Wonder" by then-safeties coach Chuck Martin for his ability to get the back seven into the correct coverage pre-snap.

(Martin once told an exasperated Brian Kelly following a coverage breakdown: "I don't know what happened there, I guess 'Boy Wonder' finally missed a check.")

Aside from quarterback Tommy Rees, no Irish players have to know more about their respective sides of scrimmage than the team's safeties.

"You have to know what the linebackers are doing, you have let the corners know what you're doing so they know what to do," Redfield offered. "So it's a unison. You need to experience it in a game and in practice on a consistent basis to become fluent at it eventually.

"I feel frustrated still. I still don't have everything down like I obviously want to. Still making the little mistakes that you have to eliminate to be a big contributor in the game. That's why I'm not there," he admitted. "It's a process like the coaches keep telling me. I've tried to accept it, but it's still frustrating obviously."

Redfield likewise admitted he thought it would come more easily, and quickly.

"I walked in like that at first, then after the first week it's kind of a wake-up call," he said with a grin. "You don't know everything. You don't know what your'e doing, you're starting at grand zero and work your way up. That's what it's been so far.

"Obviously I had different expectations than the coaches had and (those) were higher than what I've been so far. It took a little while to humble me, to come back down to ground level and understand why I'm here and where I'm at."

He's on the cusp, just like the majority of the program's best modern-day safeties before him.

When the quarterback of team's secondary makes the wrong call, the wrong team's band too often breaks into song.

"Just recently, I feel like I got a better grasp on the defense," he said. "I still made mistakes today at's the little things that really count in this game, especially in college football. If you make a mistake, it's magnified to a greater extent."

For Redfield, more mistakes, playing time, and big plays, await. Top Stories