Matthias Farley was the third player in Notre Dame’s signing Class of 2011 to verbally commit, following Brad Carrico and Kyle Brindza, who pledged shortly before Farley in April of 2010. He was signed by Notre Dame as a combination receiver/safety/athlete.
While recording 49 tackles and an interception during his final prep campaign at Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High School, he also caught 37 passes for more than 600 yards and 10 touchdowns as a wide receiver.
Farley found his niche on the defensive side of the football as a red-shirt freshman, emerging as a surprise starter in the opener against Navy in Dublin. He would start 11 games during Notre Dame’s national-title quest, but struggled throughout the ’13 campaign with a shoulder injury that neither he nor Brian Kelly discussed publicly. He remained in the starting lineup for a majority of the season.
A healthy, refreshed Farley emerged in ’14 as Brian VanGorder’s hands-down choice to man the nickel back spot, where he had a co-team-leading four interceptions while finishing fifth on the squad in tackles (53), fifth in tackles for loss (6.5) and tied for second in sacks (3.5).
Farley likely will have a hand in all things Notre Dame defense this fall after starting at safety during the 2012 national title run, and then taking command of the nickel position each of the past two seasons. If something were to happen to either starting safety – Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield – Notre Dame’s lack of depth at the position could slide Farley back to the spot he manned in ’12. His alert play and intelligence – plus his tackling and disruptive ability when he’s healthy – make him a key cog heading into the 2015 season. He is a candidate to be named a captain.
Farley wasn’t brought back for a fifth season to simply lend moral support from the sideline. As we learned in 2013, even if Farley is banged up – which he was virtually all season with a shoulder issue – he’s still a valuable piece to the defense.
Although Jamoris Slaughter entered Notre Dame as a four-star safety prospect out of Georgia while Farley was less highly-regarded without a specific position, both – after preserving a year of eligibility as freshmen – quickly emerged as heady leaders from the safety position. Slaughter made 19 careers starts with 98 tackles and a pair of interceptions, serving as a key man in the box defensively, a role that Farley has played extensively. Had Slaughter not suffered an Achilles injury his fifth season, his career stats would be much closer to Farley’s 151 tackles and seven interceptions. At his present pace, the three-star Farley will have a more productive collegiate career than the four-star Slaughter.
Farley has exceeded expectations of a three-star player, particularly early in his career when he made the transition from receiver to safety, where he played a key role as a red-shirt freshman. He started 11 of 13 games in ‘12. As one of 13 three-star prospects in Notre Dame’s 23-man signing class of 2011, Farley has produced at a comparable pace to fellow three-stars Nick Martin and Cam McDaniel – both captains in ‘14.
Farley’s best and most consistent work in a Notre Dame uniform came during the 2014 season with his shoulder issues from the previous season behind him. He put up significant individual stats against Arizona State when he had three solo tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and one of his four interceptions on the season. During a three-game stretch against Florida State, Navy and Arizona State, he recorded five of his 6.5 tackles for loss, including three of his 3.5 sacks. Two of his four interceptions came in back-to-back weeks against Arizona State and Northwestern.
“It’s a mixture of experience and confidence. When he gets out there, he understands the concepts of the defense. He knows where his help is. He understands spacing. Sometimes when you’re playing a lot of zone defense, when you have young defenders out there, you see them standing next to each other and you realize they don’t have a clue of what the spacing is. He does a great job of understanding and communicating defensive concepts and spacing.”
-- ND defensive backs coach Todd Lyght