When Max Redfield signed with Notre Dame four years ago, he figured he would spend January 2017 recovering from his rookie season in the NFL.
When he opted not to enter the NFL Draft last spring, Redfield figured he would play in a bowl game the first week of this month and then prep for an eventual pro day.
Instead, the former Irish safety has spent the month attending rehab sessions in the mornings before heading to class at Cal State Fullerton or an internship at a real estate firm.
“I believe everything happens for a reason, and I’ve learned so much from this,” Redfield said Wednesday. “I’ve grown so much from this. I’m extremely thankful for that, but I would obviously have loved to finish my last year at Notre Dame and have the impact on my team that I think would have been profound.”
Redfield, a class of 2013 five-star recruit, originally verbally committed to USC. During the Under Armour All-America Game, however, he changed that commitment to Notre Dame. For context: Two days later the Irish faced Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game in Miami. Notre Dame’s upcoming contest played a part in Redfield’s change of heart.
“Notre Dame was No. 1 in the country at the time, the academics are incredible, and the alumni are international, which is something I really valued,” he said.
“You hear various stories about how not ideal the weather is, location, all that kind of stuff. Being from California, obviously that is something that is on your mind, but for me it was, I’m going to go out and really experience this and go for it.”
Not because of the weather or location, Redfield intended to leave Notre Dame for the NFL as quickly as he could, hopefully with both a national championship and a degree—perhaps complemented by a minor or two—in hand. Looking to graduate in three years, Redfield took 17 or 18 credits (compared to a normal undergraduate load of 15) more semesters than not, including Mandarin Chinese from the outset.
“The coaches did not like that,” Redfield said. “I had to put a decent amount of time into that field of study, but it was something I was extremely passionate in and very determined to do.”
Before his dismissal from the University this fall, Redfield was on pace to graduate with a philosophy degree and minors in Mandarin Chinese and business economics.
“I made it clear I wanted to get my degree as fast as possible in three years flat … and potentially get drafted after my junior year because I thought I had that ability and that potential. I felt my junior year we had a team that could win a national championship, so my plan was to end on a high note, win a national championship, and do everything that I needed to do, including getting my degree.
“Often [the coaches] would make it very explicit they didn’t think it was best for me, even if it was maybe. It obviously wasn’t the best for their agenda and what they wanted for me. It wasn’t something that made us have an adversarial relationship, but I would be surprised if it wasn’t in the back of their heads at all times.”
Notre Dame did indeed come tantalizingly close to a College Football Playoff berth in 2015, losing only two games by a combined four points, both on the road. The 10-2 regular season yielded a Fiesta Bowl date with Ohio State. Redfield licked his chops at the chance to match up with Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott, now a favorite for NFL Rookie of the Year honors.
“It was the biggest game of my life,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a football game. Obviously, the hype around Ohio State was incredible. Playing Ezekiel Elliott was something I was looking forward to for a while. I thought he was overhyped to a certain extent, although he was a great running back.”
One missed curfew later and Redfield’s junior season ended a game earlier than expected. Despite friction with the coaching staff long before that 2 a.m. bed check, Redfield opted to stray from his original itinerary, ambitious as it was, and return for his senior year.
“[The NFL Draft] was something that was on my mind, but it wasn’t a hard decision to make,” he said. “My heart was in coming back for another year. At that point, I felt like I would be leaving my teammates and leaving unfinished business behind.”
That business would remain unfinished. Redfield and four teammates—sophomores running back Dexter Williams, defensive back Ashton White and linebacker Te’von Coney, and freshman receiver Kevin Stepherson—were arrested Aug. 19. Redfield was charged with possession of a handgun without a license and possession of marijuana.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly dismissed the senior two days later, saying Redfield was “expected to provide leadership and a positive example to the other members of the team” and “failed in that regard.”
This response caught Redfield off-guard. He expected a suspension for all five rather than being singled out and sent packing.
“That blindsided me. It definitely broke my heart.”
Though he may have disagreed with the severity of Kelly’s actions, he did not disagree with the sentiment. For this misstep, Redfield takes full responsibility.
“It was decision-making that was terrible on my part,” he said. “At that point, I was a leader on the team, and needed to act like a leader in everything I did. Falling into a situation like that, I wasn’t being a leader … That’s something I probably regret most.”
Redfield went home to Mission Viejo, Calif., returning to Indiana for necessary court appearances. To show the court he is moving forward with his life, he joined a rehab program about three weeks ago. His next appearance is scheduled for mid-February.
Redfield enrolled in two philosophy courses at Cal State Fullerton with the understanding they will satisfy his remaining requirements to complete his Notre Dame degree. The Mandarin Chinese minor will come with it, but he will end up two courses short for the corresponding business economics honor.
Presuming he graduates, he should be eligible to play football this fall thanks to the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule.
“I considered declaring for the Draft this year, but I felt it was the best decision for me to come back for another year and prove how consistent I can be on and off the field. Give it a year to put it behind me.”
Redfield would not go so far as to name schools he has been in contact with, deeming it “really premature,” but he did indicate he expects to play at the FBS level in the fall and should know where within a few weeks.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
By no means does Redfield regret attending Notre Dame. Throughout a 30-minute conversation, he alternates between bluntly criticizing the Irish coaching staff and taking some responsibility for the “adversarial relationship.” More than anything, he praises the people he met at the University.
“I love my brothers, and most of the people I came into contact with at Notre Dame were incredible people, as well. I really do cherish all the experiences I had and all the connections I made as well.”
Nonetheless, Redfield entertains the thought maybe he should not have been so enticed by Notre Dame’s undefeated 2012 regular season. Maybe the Midwest location should have been a red flag not because of the weather, but because of the thousands of miles of separation from home.
“I wish I did make a decision closer to my heart and maybe stayed closer to my family,” he said. “Maybe that would have given me more opportunity to stay focused, but I definitely don’t regret it.”