Nov. 16, 2012
By Sean Tenaglia –
On Sept. 15, 2012, then No. 20 Notre Dame traveled to East Lansing, Mich., to take on No. 10 Michigan State. The Irish were in the midst of a dominant defensive performance, limiting the Spartans to three first-half points en route to a 14-3 lead at intermission.
On the first snap of the second half, the Notre Dame defensive line swarmed Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell. Big-hitting senior safety Jamoris Slaughter has grown accustomed to making such stops for the Irish, but instead he was crumpled to the turf without even being touched.
“My initial thought was, ‘Please don’t let this be an Achilles tear. Let this be an ankle sprain or something else,'” Slaughter says. “I was just hoping it wasn’t as bad as it felt, but when I tried to put pressure on it and I couldn’t, I immediately broke down.”
Slaughter’s worst nightmare was realized. His season, and possibly college career, was over following a ruptured Achilles.
“When it first happened and I was getting carried off the field, I knew I was out for the season,” Slaughter says. “That’s a feeling that no football player ever wants to have, to know that you won’t be out there with your brothers making plays, especially when you’re such a big contributor to your defense and your team.”
Slaughter, who currently is enrolled in the graduate studies program, had earned a fifth year of eligibility, and was looking to build off of a strong 2011 campaign in which he started 10 games and recorded 45 tackles.
“Before the season, I felt that I was going to have a breakout year,” Slaughter says. “People think I had a good year last year, but I was determined to have one of those crazy years, making a ton of plays.”
Slaughter entered the season as one of the few veterans remaining in the Irish secondary. Following his injury, many outside the program assumed that the youth and inexperience of the defensive backs would be a major weakness for the team. However, Slaughter, who now has a unique, almost fatherly, role from the sidelines has noticed the remarkable progression of those young players.
“They’ve actually impressed me a lot,” Slaughter says. “I know a lot of people felt like our secondary was a weak point of the team, but the secondary has actually helped close some games. It’s amazing to see the guys out there for the first time during one of the best seasons at Notre Dame in years, developing and going through their growing pains, and actually getting better each game.”
Slaughter has embraced his new role. While disappointed that he is unable to compete with his teammates out on the field, the safety has enjoyed the new opportunities to instruct and guide the younger defensive backs.
“You know, out of something bad always comes something good, ” Slaughter says about the injury. “It’s given me a chance to look back and see the game, and slow it down even more for me.
“It’s also given me a chance to really help out a lot of the young guys. This is Matthias Farley’s first year starting, so whenever he comes off the field, I can give him some tips and pointers about how to play certain coverages or how to look for tendencies in formations.”
Farley, a sophomore safety who has greatly impressed Slaughter with his aggressive play, has taken the bulk of the fifth-year senior’s playing time. He played a major role in the overtime victory over Stanford, collecting his first career interception and making a critical tackle for loss in the red zone late in the fourth quarter.
The Irish defense went 17 quarters without allowing a touchdown, until BYU was able to cross the goal line in the game on Oct. 20. Although Slaughter is not on the field making those plays, his influence can be seen in the composure and attention to detail of the young secondary.
Looking back on his time at Notre Dame, Slaughter pointed to his graduation this past May as another defining experience.
“I never could have imagined, before I got here, that I would be graduating from the University of Notre Dame,” Slaughter says. “That’s one of the biggest accomplishments of my life.”
He also discovered that the times spent with friends while at school are among those memories that he will cherish forever.
“Hanging out with my friends each year, just little things that time won’t give back once you leave Notre Dame are among my memories,” Slaughter says. “You aren’t going to see these guys every day anymore. I’ve just been happy dwelling on those times that I’ve had here.
“I’m not sure if I’ll get a sixth year [of eligibility] or not, so this really could be my last go round, and I’m just trying to embrace everything that’s going on right now.”
Throughout his time at Notre Dame, Slaughter has had several great examples of leadership and perseverance within the Irish locker room. Among those players he considers a model of character and determination is his good friend and former Notre Dame running back Armando Allen Jr.
“We’ve always been close,” Slaughter says. “I’ve spent summers working out with him in Miami. We got a chance to really bond and get to know each other’s family.”
Like Slaughter, Allen Jr., battled injuries throughout his Notre Dame career. The fifth-year senior safety looks to Allen as a model of perseverance and hope.
“He always gives me energy and hope,” Slaughter says. “Just to have somebody close to me who went through the same situation that I’m now going through is a great feeling. He can give me words of wisdom and some pointers on how to be mentally calm and to realize that things are going to be good in the end.”
Allen, a 2011 Notre Dame graduate, now plays for the Chicago Bears. On Oct. 7, 2012, Allen scored his first National Football League touchdown, breaking off a 46-yard run against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Among those cheering loudest for the running back was his good friend Slaughter.
Notre Dame now finds itself 10-0 and No. 3 in the Bowl Championship Series rankings. Prior to the season, Slaughter had a feeling that this year was going to be special.
“I definitely felt like the season would go the way it’s going now,” Slaughter says. “We felt since spring ball that we were going to do something special. All the guys have been working hard. I felt that we would be close to a national championship this year, and definitely compete for a BCS bowl.”
Slaughter’s main goal for the near future is to obtain a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA. He hopes to be back out on the field with his teammates for the 2013 season.
“Whether or not I get the sixth year, I am going to rehab, and get my leg back stronger than ever,” Slaughter says. “I want to get back on the field and showcase my talents. I feel like I got a lot more to give before it’s all over with, and I definitely don’t want it to be over now.”
Slaughter does recognize that football is not the most important aspect of his life, both now and in the future.
“If football does come to a stop – because sometimes it does end before you want it to – I’m going to take all that energy and focus from football, and put that towards my career and my life.”