Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Sports

September 21, 2012

NOTRE DAME FOOTBALL: Motta leads inexperienced Irish secondary

Senior is only member of unit with more than three career starts

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame has a new voice in the secondary and coach Brian Kelly is glad everyone is finally getting to hear it.

Senior safety Zeke Motta has been busy, making sure his inexperienced teammates are in the right place. The Irish leaned heavily on Motta in wins against Purdue and Michigan State because fifth-year senior Jamoris Slaughter missed the second halves in both games because of injuries.

With Slaughter now out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon, the 11th-ranked Irish (3-0) are counting on Motta to play a key role Saturday night in slowing Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who has gashed Notre Dame for 944 yards total offense the past two years. The Irish are trying to avoid a fourth-straight loss to the No. 18 Wolverines (2-1).

Motta is the only member of the Irish secondary with more than three career starts and is the only starter who arrived on campus as a defender. Matthias Farley, who replaces Slaughter, was a reserve wide receiver who didn’t play as a freshman last year. Junior cornerback Bennett Jackson started as a wide receiver, and freshman cornerback KeiVarae Russell was recruited as a running back.

The secondary is the question mark for a defense that has given up just 30 points, the fewest allowed by an Irish squad since the 1988 team gave up 27 points en route to the national championship.

Kelly calls Motta’s development the past year remarkable.

“He had a hard time getting himself lined up last year,” Kelly said. “He has been terrific back there. He’s been physical, he’s played the ball well and his leadership skills have continued to grow.”

Motta is second on the team with 19 tackles, including 11 against Michigan State along with an interception.

Kelly knew he needed the quiet Motta to become a leader this year so he tried to draw him out more this spring, asking him to speak before a group of about 1,000 alumni at the Joyce Center.

“I wanted to push him out front because I saw a young man that the way he practiced, the dedication he has to the game, the kind of young man he is, you want him representing your program,” he said.

Motta said it was a bit intimidating at first, but accepted the challenge.

“I always like a good challenge,” he said.

He decided to talk about what Notre Dame meant to him. He wrote the speech, practiced giving it in front of a mirror, then in front of his father. He delivered the speech without the aid of notes, and believes he did well. Kelly saw Motta’s confidence growing in the spring.

Motta said he learned a lot from hanging around with Harrison Smith, a safety who was a Notre Dame captain last year and a first-round draft pick of the Minnesota Vikings. Motta said he’s tried to emulate Smith in his work ethic and leadership, saying he tries to lead without saying a lot.

 

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