If you guys hadn’t noticed, today is National Signing Day in college football, and thus a whole new class of players has now officially formalized their college choices with letters of intent.
Back in 2011, a 3-star athlete from Charlotte, North Carolina by the name of Matthias Farley went through this very same process. Afterward, he went on to start on a national championship-caliber defense as a sophomore, lose his starting spot by his final season on the team (but still be named a captain), go undrafted in the NFL Draft, make his way onto a couple NFL rosters (first the Arizona Cardinals, then the Indianapolis Colts), and ultimately ended up as a very pleasant surprise for the Colts as a starting safety for them much of last season.
Farley has gone through just about everything this class of 2018 can expect to go through over the next few years, so he was awesome enough to answer some questions about his experiences and give some very valuable insight for young players as to what matters, what can make the difference at this high level of football, etc.
Let’s dive in to what he had to say, because trust me, it’s ABSOLUTELY worth reading.
Q: You hear often about how coaches, scouts, executives, etc. get turned off by a guy’s attitude. Making it in this sport obviously takes being a good athlete, but what is the importance of also being a good person?
Matthias Farley: I think that Notre Dame recruits people of high character across the board and I think it’s run by people of high character, and the people that you meet there are of high character, so it calls you to a higher standard just by being a part of it because you’re doing and working and being and playing and studying around people that are going to go on and do something great. And those are your peers.
And then there’s people that you meet. I met Hunter Perret that way at dinner my freshman year and I had no idea the impact that he would have on not only my college experience, but him and I are still very very close. And I’ve met several other people similarly to that, that have had huge impacts on my life that are just great people.
I think that having those people in your life, having those people that have had success at that level — in sports and business and finance and all these different things — and they’re all a resource and asset to you by going to a place like Notre Dame. They care about you, they care about your story and I think it enriches your life in a lot more ways than just the 4 or 5 years you might spend in college because you can keep those relationships going for a long time.
How did relationships with coaches, teachers or other people help or hurt you? An example: The Irish dealt with some high-profile indefinite suspensions that were said to lead back to some tutoring/academics. Did you find things like that being an obstacle or distraction?
Not really. I mean, I think there was an unfortunate series of events, but that’s things that were out of my control and out of all of our control, so you just always focus on what we had to do and what I had to do myself to stay in good standing with my coaches and to stay in good standing with my professors and to stay in good standing with a lot of the people that I had met during my time there.
I think I got better from being around my teachers and my coaches. You don’t always get along with your coaches, you don’t always get along with your teachers, you don’t always get along with everybody, but I think that at Notre Dame you can have those tough conversations with people and you can have real conversations with people, and I think that’s what makes you grow and you’ll see that over your 4 years there.
*Pat Rick note: this is one of my favorite videos I have ever discovered on YouTube
What helped drive you to keep going when you came up against tough odds? For example, Notre Dame had a tremendous 2012 regular season, with you as a starter. However, the team lost handily to Alabama. Although you lost your starting spot later in your collegiate career, you made your way to the NFL and impressed right away as a rookie and ultimately became a starter again at the highest level.
I have a self-belief, I have a lot of pride being a Farley. I come from a big family and that means a lot to me.
I think that I needed all of the things that happened to me in college. High school when I first started was a breeze, and then getting to college there were a lot of ups and downs — starting and then not starting, playing and then not playing — all this stuff that I was able to stay true to who I was and I learned in a lot of different times and a lot of different ways.
In different instances I feel like I had a lot of people around me. I had coaches — Coach Elliott was very instrumental, he passed away this past summer — he had a huge impact on my life.
I was a part of the Joyce Grants-in-Aid program — I met Hunter Perret that way. He had a huge impact when I was down. He would come to every game whether we were winning or losing and bring his family. I always had a place to go after games in my family which is huge, another safe place.
There’s just countless people, coaches wives — Mrs. Elliott, she would take care of us and come and check on us at the facilities and things like that. There were just a lot of people cheering me on and being there to support through good and bad times and I think that those people were necessary in the way that they aided and helped and encouraged and all those things to get me to where I am today.
What’s National Signing Day like, and what advice do you have for these young athletes as they make huge decisions for their lives, both in terms of football and non-football?
I think you need to look at National Signing Day, not as like an “Oh I got it, I did it,” because I think in a lot of ways that’s how it’s viewed. Like “Oh I got a college scholarship, great,” but now that’s when the work really starts. You’re no longer the best recruit in your high school, or your county or your state maybe.
You’re now going to be competing against guys who are all the same thing. With guys that were all the same thing the year before and the year before and the year before. So I think when you’re choosing a school you need to choose a school that fits you. Not what you think you want or what you think other people want. It has to be right for you — that’s big.
And also, you need to think about your future. What going to that college or university is going to enable you to do when you’re done playing football. Everybody wants to play in the NFL, that’s why you play football I think in a lot of ways in college and pursue a career and all that stuff, but the reality is that not many people get to do so. You have to think about how that college or university is going to equip you to live the rest of your life because the reality is that whether you play in the NFL or you don’t, the majority of your life is going to be spent doing something other than playing football.
So you have to take that into account and not just let 4 or 5 years — I mean some guys go for 3 years, but the guys that go for 3 years go to the NFL *laughs* — so you have to take all those things into account when you’re making your decision and you have to be okay with it. You see guys transfer or leave because they didn’t really make the decision that was right, or the fit wasn’t spot on, and that’s when you see guys be unhappy and all that kind of stuff. You need to take all those things into account.
Did you do anything special for signing day? Was it an emotional day? Describe what was going through your head and what you did that day.
It was a school day, so you had several other kids signing from my high school for other sports. And that was really cool to watch and witness. I had my family there, which was big to have them there. Both of my parents were there, my siblings were there, it was awesome.
It was really cool to see the people that showed up. People from all different phases and stages of my life that were there that had an impact and really had an impact specifically on my athletic development — coaches from middle school and lower school — showing up. So that was really cool.
And I remember I signed that piece of paper and felt a huge sense of relief; just that it was over, it was done and that I could focus on enjoying the last bit of my time with my friends in Charlotte before I took off and went to Indiana.
If you could go back to signing day in 2011, would you do anything differently, from then until now?
No, I think going to Notre Dame was the greatest decision I ever made from the life standpoint, I think for myself.
I had offers that were in-state, I had offers that were from different schools, warm schools *laughs*, but I knew that if I went to Notre Dame the rest of my life would be different in a positive way because of the people that I’d be exposed to, because of the relationships that I would build, because of the challenges that I was going to inevitably face by being in an environment where there is no option to do anything but the right thing — to take things seriously.
There’s no corners to cut, and I knew going there that there weren’t going to be. It really made me develop in a way that I don’t think I would have had things been simpler or if I could’ve gone home on the weekends if I was bummed out about something, or I could get away because I knew people that lived around the area.
I was as far away from everybody I knew and everything that was familiar to me as possible, but I found that’s where I grew. I’m really, really glad I made that decision, and I wouldn’t change anything about it.
What was it like to be thrust into a starting role on one of the best defenses in the country as just a sophomore? How did you handle that?
I think I handled it really well, I also think that it was managed really well for me by our coaches. They made it very simple for me throughout that year. I gained a lot of confidence because I had success in the simplicity of it and then they started to trust me a little bit more, and a little bit more and a little bit more.
But I think that playing on a defense of that caliber made me so much better. Not immediately, but I think even now that experiencing that kind of defense, that kind of clear communication of what it really really looks like when guys are all out there playing together — I think that was huge for my development.
It was scary in a lot of ways now that I look back at it, but during the time that I was playing I didn’t think about it because our coaches did such a great job. Coach Elliott did an incredible job of just keeping things small. I’d watch film with him everyday and he’s the reason I think I’ve had this success because he took the time to speed me up whereas these other guys that I was playing with were juniors, seniors and 5th-year seniors, and they didn’t need the extra work, but I definitely did so Coach Elliott was huge in that year and the years to follow.
You struggled through injuries and eventually lost your starting spot on the defense, but were able to develop into a critical leader of the last couple teams you played for. How did you manage the disappointment of losing your starting spot, and how were you able to still be a leader, on and off the field?
I think losing my starting spot humbled me, which I needed to have happen. I think I learned that there’s so much that’s so much bigger than me, not just in football but in life.
It’s easy to complain, it’s easy to get down, it’s easy to throw the towel in when things aren’t going your way, but the easy road isn’t always the best road. I knew it was bigger than me. I knew that I still had an opportunity to contribute to a team, to contribute to the success of my friends. Because the guys who were playing in front of me were my very good friends, so if they were having success, we were having success.
At that point I didn’t care about myself so much. I wanted to win and if one of those guys gave us a better chance to win in the coaches’ minds or whatever it may be, then I was all for it and I accepted that role.
Before you lead anybody you have to serve, so I think that during that time period I had to get over myself in a lot of ways and I learned how to serve other people and help other people and teach other people and see other people down when they go through a similar situation, and be able to help them through it so they didn’t get as down as I did at the front end of everything.
I think that time period really helped me become a better teammate, which inevitably makes you a better player because you care about the guys doing that much more than you’re going out there with.
How did you prepare for the NFL, knowing you might not be drafted? What was the undrafted free agent process like?
I don’t know if I’m a good case for it because I had made peace with the fact that if I didn’t make it, then that was okay. I was going to move to Montana for a year and just work on a farm or something if I didn’t make a team. And there was a part of me, I was going back and forth at different points in the latter part of my career at Notre Dame, that was “Do I really want to try? The way things are looking it was going to be a stretch.”
But then I decided that I’ve done all this work, I’ve come this far, it’d be pointless not to try it. And then I wanted to, I had a disappointing year, I guess, on paper my last year, but I had so much fun playing the year before that that it kind of made that last year okay in a lot of ways because I was wanting to be a part of the team again.
So I think I was at peace whether I made it or not and I think that helped me in my training because I could give it 100% and not worry about disappointing myself. And then I got an opportunity to go to the Cardinals as a free agent, played well out there during camp and then got released in the last wave of cuts, which was disappointing, but at the same time I was at peace with it.
I remember sitting in my buddy Evan Boehm’s apartment out there and I was packing my stuff up having no idea where I was going to go but I was okay with it. And then I got claimed by the Colts, which was glory to God a huge answer to prayer and I’ve been here since and it’s been an absolutely incredible experience.
If it ended right now it’d be I think one of the better stories of just an insane sequence of events that continues to blow my mind even when I take a step back and think “Man, I really got to do all this stuff.”
Once you were signed to a team in the NFL, what did it take to prove yourself as a capable player on the roster, and then later on, as a capable contributor/starter for the Colts?
One of my mentors, Eugene Robinson, he played forever in the NFL — he’s the reason I wear number 41 — he just gave me the really great advice of just starting from zero all the time. No matter whether you think you know everything, or you don’t know anything legitimately, just start from zero and go in with that mindset to everything.
It could be something as simple as a lift that they’re trying to teach you. You might know how to do it, but approach it like you have no idea and go through it literally from zero and build it from the ground up. I think that being in the back of my mind, and also I had to learn a couple of different defenses in college and the second one that I had to learn was an NFL defense so I think that really, really, really helped me pick it up a lot quicker when I got to Arizona.
And I would just study, I realized pretty quickly that it’s about how smart you are, not how fast you are, because if you’re running in the wrong direction it doesn’t matter. So I really took the off-the-field, mental part of my game and ratcheted up an exponential amount of watching film, understanding defensive concepts and understanding offensive concepts, when they run them and why they run them, and picking the brains of really, really, really good players that I got to sit in a room with and get corrections with at Arizona — it’s a stacked DB run out there so it was awesome to learn under all of those guys.
And then I carried that approach when I got to Indianapolis because I had learned the defense in Arizona really well — I was playing well and I was comfortable in it — and then I got cut and then claimed so I had to start from zero at the beginning of the year. They weren’t installing anything anymore, it wasn’t like a camp setting, it was every week I had something new and I really had to go home every day and learn that defense on my own while it was happening.
The first week I was in Indianapolis we played Detroit and through a sequence of events I had been there for 5 or 6 days and I get put in the game because somebody went down. So I learned really, really quick that you got to know it, you got to be on it and your number can get called at any time and if it does, you have to go in and you have to produce or you won’t be around.
So I think that situation, that first week, really lit an extra fire under me. I already knew that, but this is even bigger now, this is real. This isn’t preseason, this isn’t anything else. There’s so many people that get to dress, and if you get a helmet you better be ready because anything can happen.
So I just took that approach throughout the season and I was really excited going into this offseason because I really got to learn the defense as it was intended to be learned — the first install, the second install, the third install, these kind of coverages altogether.
I got to start from zero in that and learn this defense even more and even deeper and I think that carried into the success I had during the season and — God willing — I’ll get to continue to play in this league and I think that mindset and that approach can continue success in the future.
I want to give a huge, MASSIVE shout out to Matthias for answering all those questions with such thoughtful, meaningful responses. He was absolutely the kind of player that makes Notre Dame alumni proud, as he is clearly a hard-working, intelligent, successful person both on and off the field, and is a fantastic representative of what Notre Dame football should be all about.
I encourage you all to follow Matthias on Twitter and to keep an eye on his performance with my beloved Indianapolis Colts (especially after the turmoil recently and the Josh McDaniels fiasco — Matthias will be one of the lone bright spots to follow next year in Indy).
And to any current or future players, Notre Dame or not, who read this article — please take what Matthias said to heart, because I think his wisdom on hard work, perseverance, getting outside your comfort zone, investing in relationships, and much more is all FANTASTIC and can truly help you as you journey through these fun, crazy times in your lives.