What a difference a year makes. For sophomore safety Max Redfield, football is a complete 180, finding his place in the starting lineup after spending 2013 buried on the depth chart. That was hardly the expectation for Redfield when he signed his letter of intent with the Irish, giving Notre Dame a safety that should’ve woken the echoes of Harrison Smith.
But most forget that Smith spent his freshman season watching and learning, preserving a year of eligibility before playing two mostly mediocre seasons before Brian Kelly came to town. With Bob Diaco off to UConn and Brian VanGorder’s scheme a perfect fit for Redfield’s skillset, the Irish have a young, emerging playmaker on the backend of their defense.
Let’s take a closer look at the Irish’s starting free safety.
6'1" 198 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 10
One of the top players in the state of California, Redfield was committed to USC before he flipped to Notre Dame in January, making the decision public at the Under Armour All-American game. A five-star recruit, Redfield was a three-sport standout at Mission Viejo High, an Orange County powerhouse.
With great length as a wideout and the ability to star as both a centerfielder and someone who could bring the hammer as a free safety, Kelly had a hard time hiding his excitement on Signing Day when he introduced Redfield.
“We think Max is an elite player,” Kelly said. “He’s a young man that has a specific skill set that could see him play offense, he could play defense, he’s going to play in that safety position for us, and we think he’s a young man that can come in and compete. He’s got all the athletic ability, and he’s a very smart young man.”
Played in 12 games, making a start in the Pinstripe Bowl. Made 12 tackles on the season, including three against BYU and Air Force.
Redfield’s best football is in front of him. And after a humbling freshman season that saw Redfield struggle to crack Bob Diaco’s lineup, the sophomore didn’t mince words.
“I was devastated,” Redfield told Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister. “I would be the first one to tell you that. It was hard to stay motivated throughout the year.
“I felt like I was trying to do everything I could to get on the field, but we continued to make some mistakes because the defense was so detailed and so in-depth. It was very frustrating.”
Those frustrations are gone. So is the lack of motivation. Redfield met with the local media over the weekend, and while his head coach is doing everything he can to take pressure off of him, Redfield is asking to carry the load from the backend.
That means making the play calls and being the quarterback of the defense. All part of being an elite safety, something Redfield has the tools to be.
At a position where a mistake could mean six points, confidence needs to be matched with accountability. But when it comes to athleticism, speed and ability to cover ground and make hits, Redfield gives the Irish an athlete on the backend that should have fans excited.
Count me among the believers in Redfield, who should put up big numbers roaming center field for VanGorder’s defense. If cornerbacks KeiVarae Russell, Cole Luke and Cody Riggs are capable of holding strong in coverage, Redfield is going to be the beneficiary of plenty of misdirected passes, with receivers rubbed off their routes and timing interrupted.
That said, one of the tenets of a Brian Kelly defense is a disdain for giving up big plays. And ultimately Redfield will be the Irish’s last line of defense, with the responsibilities of being the man over the top and ultimately understanding all that’s going on.
After struggling with the transition to the college game and a complex system, one listen to Redfield assures you those worries are gone and his confidence is back. We’ll see if that short memory continues when things break down on the field, but for now the Irish have the makings of a young star at safety.
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