Dec 24, 2012, 2:13 PM EST
The first of ten features on ten below-the-radar players whose performances helped key the Irish’s run to the national title game.
If there’s a handful of enduring images from this season, Zeke Motta‘s celebration in the USC visitors locker room belongs near the top of the list. As Lane Kiffin addressed the media after another disappointing loss, Notre Dame’s celebration from the nearby visitors dressing room could be heard through the Coliseum’s concrete walls, another awkward moment for the Trojans head coach, who did his best to work his way through a long list of questioners before escaping a regular season that turned into a nightmare, courtesy of Motta and his Notre Dame teammates.
Leading that Irish celebration was Motta — lying atop a bank of lockers, like a surfer awaiting a wave — high above his teammates. He screamed and celebrated, steam billowing from his body after another punishing football game, and embraced the moment. A moment filled with pure joy; the culmination of one of the more amazing regular seasons in Irish history. And a moment a long time coming for Motta.
For most of his time in South Bend, Motta looked like the prototype Charlie Weis recruit. On paper, he appeared to be a near perfect recruit. A coveted prospect with great recruiting offers. The son of a coach and a physical freak of nature. Yet Motta’s physical skills would only take him so far. He needed the mental game to match-up with physical prowess. And three seasons with Brian Kelly’s defensive staff helped a transformation that was one of the most important of 2012.
Motta spent much of 2010 playing by default. With a roster unbelievably absent of safeties, Motta was thrust into action, learning on the fly next to Harrison Smith, playing major minutes as a true sophomore that had only begun cutting his teeth as a special teams player in 2009. Motta’s 2011 season was another year of development, with his best moments coming near the end of the season, a scoop and score defensive touchdown overshadowed by the Irish offense’s inability to beat Florida State.
With Smith departing the Irish roster as a first round draft pick, and cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton no longer manning their respective positions, a secondary where Motta always simply fit in was now his own to lead, especially after the season ending Achilles injury to Jamoris Slaughter.
And Motta rose to the challenge, one of the great achievements on an Irish team that finds itself playing for a national championship.
“It’s probably one of the most remarkable developments of a player from year one or year two to year three in that sense,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said back in September. “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 was a young man that at times had a hard time speaking in front of a group. This spring, I had him speak at our spring banquet along with Justin Tuck. He handled himself well there, and it’s just been a great evolutionary process to see him continue to grow as a person and as a player. He deserves all the credit for that.”
On the field, Motta’s senior season has been a tremendous success. He’s tied for second on the team in tackles with 61, and has quarterbacked the secondary as the unit’s only returning contributor for most of the season. He’s also taken his NFL-ready size and turned a slow to develop college career into one that’ll see him make a career playing football on Sundays.
Just how good has Motta been this season? Consider NBC’s Mike Mayock, one of the best talent evaluators in the business, and his assessment of Motta’s draft status for Irish Illustrated:
“I like Zeke Motta for a lot of reasons. He’s a big, physical, tough safety. You look at the success that Harrison Smith had a year ago as a first-round safety, and Zeke is a little bigger, stronger, and more physical. I don’t think he moves quite as well from a change-of-direction perspective as Smith. But I’m a big believer that Zeke is going to be a starting safety in the league. Again, just kind of an overview, I think he’s probably going to go somewhere in the second or third round.”
The realization that Motta could have a long and successful career in the NFL as a starting safety feels a little like the proposition of Notre Dame battling Alabama for college football’s national title. You always thought it possible, yet the realization it’s going to happen is still difficult to fathom.
But for Motta, that realization is a product of hard work and maturation. It’s the merging of God-given talent and man-made work ethic.
“I’ve taken leaps from where I was two years ago,” Motta told The Observer in November. “From last year, obviously, a lot more comfortable and confident out on the field and that helps with being able to play fast and really dominate your opponent.”
It has also helped build an undefeated football team.
Dec 3, 2013, 1:21 PM EST
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has boarded a private plane with his family to Oxford, Ohio, where he’ll be named the new head coach of the Miami Redhawks. Martin interviewed for the job on Sunday and will likely be introduced later today by Miami athletic director David Sayler. Martin will fill a job vacancy…
Dec 3, 2013, 11:54 AM EST
No deal is done, but multiple outlets are reporting that Miami (OH) will offer Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin its vacant head coaching position. Former Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell was fired after a 0-5 start, along with offensive coordinator John Klacik. Martin has served as the Irish’s offensive coordinator the past two…
Dec 3, 2013, 1:46 AM EST
When Notre Dame finishes the season next year in the Coliseum, they’ll square off against head coach Steve Sarkisian, who was tabbed to run the Trojan football program on Monday. After firing Lane Kiffin early this season, USC athletic director Pat Haden brings in another visor wearing, high-energy young coach from the Pete Carroll coaching…
Dec 2, 2013, 8:14 PM EST
It looks like seniors Alex Welch and Lo Wood are nearing the end of their careers at Notre Dame. The reserve tight end and cornerback are looking to transfer, set to graduate from Notre Dame and play their final season at a different college without restriction. Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated was the first to…
Dec 2, 2013, 3:35 AM EST
Ultimately, TJ Jones said everything that was needed after the Irish’s 27-20 loss, putting into context the 8-4 season the Irish just completed. “You’re not great. You’re not terrible,” Jones said of the 8-4 record. “Little better than average, I guess you can say.” Notre Dame was game for most of the evening against Stanford,…
Dec 1, 2013, 1:01 AM EST
STANFORD, Calif. — Like many Notre Dame losses, you can look at the Irish’s 27-20 defeat at the hands of No. 8 Stanford in a variety of ways. The pragmatist sees a beaten Irish squad hang with one of college football’s most physical teams while ravaged by injuries. The optimist sees a young stable of…
Nov 30, 2013, 6:56 PM EST
Welcome to the finale of the regular season. As usual, we’re here with our buddies from Irish Illustrated, and we’re live chatting throughout the Notre Dame vs. Stanford game. It’s a beautiful day in Stanford Stadium, with a good turn out by Irish fans who headed to Northern California for Thanksgiving weekend. As usual, standard…
Nov 30, 2013, 10:20 AM EST
The sun has yet to rise in Northern California. But it will soon set on another Notre Dame football season, with the Irish having one more shot to win a very big football game. On first glance, the deck seems stacked against Brian Kelly’s squad, with injuries up front on both sides of the ball…
Nov 29, 2013, 6:55 PM EST
Notre Dame safeties Eilar Hardy and Elijah Shumate won’t be available for the regular season finale against Stanford. Rumors swirled late Thursday evening that the two safeties wouldn’t be traveling with the team to Palo Alto. Brian Kelly confirmed those rumors Friday afternoon from Northern California, citing a violation of team rules. Here’s the official…
Nov 29, 2013, 1:45 AM EST
The regular season comes to a close on Saturday, with No. 25 Notre Dame visiting No. 8 Stanford. The Irish will have a chance to beat four ranked opponents on the season, though pulling off a victory in Palo Alto will be the biggest win on a season that certainly had its ups and downs.…
Nov 28, 2013, 1:16 PM EST
Happy Thanksgiving. Here’s hoping everybody is spending it with family, friends and loved ones. The Notre Dame football team is gathering today, with coaches and their families celebrating with the team as a new record for turkeys eaten is attempted. Before I get to work in the kitchen today, let’s get to the IBG (sorry,…
Nov 27, 2013, 12:19 PM EST
It took one visit to convince outside linebacker Jhonny Williams that Notre Dame was the place for him. Even amidst the wind and snow of last weekend, Williams knew the best option for him was the school just 30 minutes away from his home in Berrian Springs, Michigan. He made that decision official Wednesday morning,…
Nov 27, 2013, 3:13 AM EST
The regular season finale takes Notre Dame to Northern California on Saturday, where they’ll face No. 8 Stanford, a program that’s spent the past four seasons in rarified air. With the opportunity to win ten games for the fourth straight season, David Shaw’s Cardinal already have their ticket booked for the Pac-12 Championship game. But…
Nov 26, 2013, 11:21 PM EST
For the final Tuesday of the regular season, Brian Kelly hosted his weekly opponent preview press conference. And it’s clear that the Irish head coach understands the challenge that No. 8 Stanford presents. The Irish have played some good teams this season. But Kelly made it clear that he thinks Stanford is the best one he’ll…
Nov 25, 2013, 11:58 PM EST
When Notre Dame takes the field this weekend, the Irish will face a quarterback that grew up dreaming of playing in this game. Only Kevin Hogan always pictured himself calling the plays for the Fighting Irish. Hogan, the junior quarterback for Stanford, took the reins of the Cardinal offense in late October last season, replacing…
Nov 25, 2013, 1:52 AM EST
For the fourth straight season, Notre Dame sent its seniors out with a victory, a wonderful change from the Charlie Weis era where the Irish lost their two final home games in devastatingly painful fashion. But on Saturday, the Irish put together a complete victory, a late-season win that felt like a great pitcher grinding…
Nov 24, 2013, 7:45 PM EST
A little winter weather wasn’t enough to deter 2015 quarterback Blake Barnett from committing to Notre Dame this weekend. The junior quarterback from Orange County, California gave the Irish a building block recruit for next season’s cycle, with the offensive coaching staff finding what looks like an excellent fit for the Irish offense. Barnett’s commitment…
Nov 23, 2013, 9:41 PM EST
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Before an emotional Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, Brian Kelly made sure the message to his team was very clear. “We told them that, you’ll get a chance to kiss your mom again,” Kelly said after the game. “But you’ll remember winning the game. That’s the most important thing.” And win…
Nov 23, 2013, 5:24 PM EST
In case you missed it, the NBC pregame show had a wonderful feature on Danny Spond, giving you a window into the life of the senior linebacker, who has had to transition from the starting lineup to life after football because of severe migraine headaches. Spond rise about adversity has been one of the very…
Nov 23, 2013, 2:30 PM EST
For the second consecutive season, BYU visits Notre Dame, with the Cougars hoping to land the knock out punch that just evaded them last season. As usual, you’ll have multiple options for following this game. Like all home games, you can watch the broadcast on NBC. If you can’t find a TV set, you can…
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- The good, the bad and the ugly: Notre Dame vs. Stanford 73
- Five things we learned: Stanford 27, Notre Dame 20 140
- Pregame Six Pack: Send off at Stanford 43
- And in that corner… The Stanford Cardinal 54
- The good, the bad and the ugly: Notre Dame vs. BYU 45