- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Matthias Farley didn't want to play high school football because he didn't want to fit in. A little more than three years after first taking to the game, he is in a new position for a unit that is undergoing its second makeover in the past month alone.
And yes, he fits right in.
What's one more converted offensive player in the starting backfield of a defense tied for eighth nationally in scoring? Following the loss of safety Jamoris Slaughter -- who had successful surgery Wednesday for his ruptured left Achilles tendon -- Notre Dame's first-team secondary is down to a grand total of one player, Zeke Motta, who has spent his entire college career on the defensive side of the ball.
"It's crazy to me to think about how it all started and how it all began," said Farley, a converted receiver who was dedicated to soccer until his junior year of high school. "But looking at it from this point of view now, I feel like I've been well-prepared, even though I haven't played that long and have the God-given ability to do the role I have to do.
"It's definitely crazy. I'm sure it's even crazier from the outside-in, but I'm real calm about the whole thing and just confident."
The last thing Farley wanted to do as the youngest of six was follow his brothers and sisters in football or basketball, but consecutive losing seasons on the pitch -- while his football-playing friends at Charlotte (N.C.) Christian made a pair of deep postseason runs, no less -- soured the prep sophomore's affinity for soccer.
So he gave in to coach Jason Estep's pleas to try football, struggling with being the guy whose technique was an early source of criticism before adapting to his roles as safety and receiver, his potential at the latter attracting the eyes of the Irish.
"Matthias is a quick learner," Motta said. "He's got that ability that's something special. I think to be able to pick things up quickly and apply it out on the field -- he hasn't really played football for too long ,but you can tell his athletic ability and everything like that is helping in his preparation, and his mental focus is right where he needs to be."
Farley became a full-time safety after not playing last season as a freshman, and he rose to the rotation quickly before falling into place following Slaughter's injury Saturday. Aided by crutches, the mentor walked off the Spartan Stadium field afterward with his protege, telling Farley that all these lessons weren't for nothing.
With cornerback Lo Wood (preseason Achilles injury) giving way to converted freshman running back KeiVarae Russell, who is starting alongside converted receiver Bennett Jackson, Farley is now the latest fresh face in a secondary that was pegged as a liability before the Irish's 3-0 start.
The newest member of that unit hopes to add to the surprises for a defense holding opponents to just 10 points per game.
"We never talk about it; everybody has settled into the roles they have," Farley said. "Maybe they didn't start, they didn't come in doing the roles they're doing, but everyone's been working real hard, and I feel like the fruit of everyone's labor is being seen as far as the play goes."