Max Redfield’s 23-game tenure as Notre Dame’s starting free safety has not been bereft of highlights.
He’s flashed absurd centerfield range, like the time he broke up a sure North Carolina touchdown on a post route with a perfectly timed hit in October 2014.
He’s shown a penchant for the football, coupled with competitive desire thereafter as with this determined interception return in September of 2014 vs. Michigan:
And he’s come through in the clutch – it was Redfield that recorded the final third down stop at Clemson affording the Irish offense a chance to tie.
And he’s come back from serious injury, notably after suffering a broken rib at USC to conclude 2014 only to return one month later to lead the Irish in tackles in the Music City Bowl vs. LSU.
And therein lies the rub.
You can remember Max Redfield’s career highlights over a 21-game span, because they aren’t consistently strewn together.
The same was true of former Irish stalwarts such as Zeke Motta, Maurice Stovall, and 2015 graduate Romeo Okwara prior to their senior seasons as well. Now each is remembered for his final act, not his entire body of work.
Redfield hopes to conclude his Irish career in a similar vein, though his approach hasn’t – or as he noted last week in his first interview since a Fiesta Bowl suspension for violation of team rules – doesn’t need to change.
“I never function within the moment thinking about the next step,” he said when asked if he placed added emphasis on the upcoming campaign as his last. “I don’t hold myself back to any extent. I try to give the best I have in all situations. I try to learn the defense the best I can and perform the defense the best I can.
“Obviously this is my last year, but it’s the same approach of trying to get better at all times. Focus on the details while also on the large, conceptual stuff that I should obviously have already. And at this point, I am a leader, so being comfortable in that leadership role and really exercising that to its fullest potential will help me forward my game and for others as well.”
A MAJOR STEP BACK
Redfield’s most recent impression is not his finest.
But perhaps more frustrating than Redfield’s New Year’s Day absence during a contest in which his fellow Irish defenders surrendered 44 points to the Ohio State Buckeyes, is that just three months prior, the senior-to-be was purportedly on the rise.
“(Redfield) played his best game since he's been here,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of his enigmatic safety’s performance against Clemson. “He was physical, double digit tackles (14)…and that’s the bar. What we have to have from Max is a consistency from week to week. We brought him in, and we talked about that. That's the kind of football he's capable of, and we need to see that kind of performance week in and week out.”
Redfield’s best game thereafter occurred vs. Stanford on Thanksgiving weekend – perhaps not coincidentally the Cardinal was the no-doubt second-best team on the 2015 Irish schedule. Among his 10 stops were four tackles that stopped Stanford runners short of first downs including two on third downs late in the contest.
And therein lies the rub, Part 2: Redfield’s best games over the last calendar year occurred vs. LSU, Clemson, and Stanford. NFL talent littered those fields.
But his worst was doubtless the aforementioned no-show vs. the Buckeyes in a game the Irish defense desperately needed speed on the back end.
“Basically it was a terrible decision on my part,” he said of his unspecified violation. “I didn’t follow the rules and regulations of the team which is understandable why I got dismissed. It hurt. It was terrible. If I could go back obviously I wouldn’t do that, but I learned a lot from it.”
Asked when and where he watched the 16-point defeat, Redfield admitted, “I did want to watch it but I (also) didn’t, so I did make myself watch it. I was at home with my family. It was hard to watch.”
TURN THE PAGE
A not-yet publicized ankle injury has hampered Redfield’s final spring session to date. And that malady has, in part, allowed early enrollee freshman Devin Studstill to step up and earn first team reps.
Studstill, however, might not be relegated to spring stand-in status thereafter.
“Devin Studstill is running with our first group right now,” Kelly said Wednesday following Notre Dame’s fifth of 15 spring practices. “He’s been really good. We’ve been very pleased with what he’s been doing. Very happy with the way he’s picked up our defense. Excellent ball skills. Excellent retention. He’s been probably been the guy that’s done the most back there.”
The job, of course, remains Redfield’s to lose. But it’s far more important that the preternaturally talented senior simply take it, leaving no doubt that a senior, 23-game starter blessed with unreal athletic gifts is the man best suited to quarterback the Irish secondary in 2016, not a savvy, gifted freshman that’s been in South Bend for three months.
Notre Dame’s roster has a senior leader on which it can rely at quarterback (Malik Zaire), running back (Tarean Folston), wide receiver (Torii Hunter), tight end (Durham Smythe), offensive line (Mike McGlinchey), defensive line (Isaac Rochell), linebacker (James Onwualu), and cornerback (Cole Luke).
It desperately needs one at safety as well.
“Harnessing those details on and off the field,” said Redfield of his focus this spring. “Being conscious of basically everything you’re doing at all times to move forward and benefit your game on and off the field is something I need to be more conscious of, and make other people conscious of in order to be a leader on this team.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I was comfortable with not being a leader (in the past) but I’m also comfortable stepping up and having my voice be heard. Leading by example is something I need to do and I understand that. I can always get better at that.
“We have other great leaders and a lot of young players that are eager to learn and lead as well. We’re going to balance that out and learn from each other.”
Redfield’s last chance to make a lasting impression depends on it.