Since the second half of the Michigan State game on Sept. 15, Notre Dame fifth-year senior safety Jamoris Slaughter’s future has been murky. Nearly four months after rupturing his Achilles, the 19-game starter has to wait out another week or so of uncertainty.
Jamoris Slaughter will know if he'll be back for a sixth year in the next week or so
Slaughter, in his first time in front of reporters since the season-ending injury, said the NCAA must wait to finish processing his application for a medical hardship waiver and sixth year of eligibility until after Monday’s BCS National Championship game between the top-ranked Fighting Irish and No. 2 Alabama.
“They said it could be up to a week or two weeks until I get an answer,” the 6-foot, 200-pounder from Stone Mountain, Ga., said Saturday at Miami’s Sun Life Stadium. “I’m basically just watching the clock. It’s going to feel like a year.”
Freshman Matthias Farley filled in for Slaughter this season for the 12-0 Irish, recording 43 tackles (two for loss) and an interception on the back line opposite senior Zeke Motta. Notre Dame currently ranks 21st nationally in passing defense after having allowed 194.42 yards per game and seven touchdowns.
By Slaughter’s estimate, if his request is granted and he returns to the program for 2013, he might not be back to 100 percent until well after spring practices.
“I’m getting there,” said Slaughter, who, based on feedback from Notre Dame’s compliance department, is optimistic about his chances of suiting up for the Irish again. “It takes a while. I’m probably three months out of surgery, so I’d say three months until I’m fully healed and another two to three months until the agility, speed, power … it’s a process.”
As frustrating as it was to be a spectator for 10 regular season games, Slaughter admitted watching his teammates play for a national title Monday will be extremely difficult.
“Any competitor in any sport on any level, if you’re on the sidelines, you’re not happy,” he said. “But I’m happy for my teammates, and I’m happy we’re here and happy we have the opportunity to be here. I’m not a selfish player, but it does get frustrating.
“Maybe there’s something in store for me down the road that’s better. Maybe it’s to come back for one more year and do better than what anybody ever expected.”
Nearly a year off afforded Slaughter an opportunity to focus on the nuances of a game he thought he had mastered by now. On top of deeper study, he focused on a player-coach role that helped him become more vocal and a more effective communicator.
“I just felt like I couldn’t be sitting on the side and not do anything,” he said. “I would do late-night film sessions with Matthias and Zeke, just to make sure everybody was on the same page. I’d still watch film and lift weights. There were no days off. It’s hard to deal with an injury that lasts this long, but you always have to look on the bright side. Looking on the negative side doesn’t really get you anywhere.
“I feel like I’m on the coaching side of things. It has really taught me a lot about football in general. I thought I knew a lot, but when you sit on the sidelines and really start watching … I feel like when I come back I’ll be that much better.”
Farley, in particular, has benefitted from Slaughter’s mentoring.
“Matthias is very intelligent; he picks up on things,” Slaughter added. “Once he picked it up, he’s been flying ever since. If I had a chance to come back and play with a guy I basically saw grow and I was able to mentor … to play with him side-by-side would be awesome.”
In other foot injury news …
Irish junior cornerback Lo Wood suffered the same Achilles tendon injury a month before Slaughter during fall camp. Wood, slotted at the time as one of the team’s starting cornerback, is just now getting back to running and the tendons around his ankle.
“It comes along pretty well,” he said. “I’m just trying to get my strength back, that’s the hardest part. Once you do that then everything else just falls into place.”
Wood was backpedaling in a non-contact drill during practice in late August when he said he felt like someone had kicked his ankle. When he turned around and saw no one behind him, he realized he might have a problem.
It was an equally frustrating season for the junior watching his teammates celebrate on the field. He said at first he didn’t want to be at practice or the games. Eventually, he played a role in developing his replacement, freshman KeiVarae Russell.
Wood said he tried to keep things light by cracking jokes in team meetings and also helped walk Russell through some of the early stages of learning to play the position for the first time. Russell had a breakout season and will now make it difficult for Wood to recapture the starting spot that he never had a chance to enjoy.
“That’s my biggest motivation is to come back and try to get my starting job back,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge, but it can happen. You just have to work hard. We’re all going to be able to play next year.”
Wood had company in the training room with Slaughter and USC transfer Amir Carlisle. Carlisle broke his ankle while making a cut shortly after arriving at Notre Dame last spring. He was expected to be healthy enough to play by the start of the regular season, but nerve damage around the broken bone held him out for the entire season.
Instead, Carlisle watched seniors Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood and tried to pick up on the finer details that made them successful in 2012. He’ll try to put that to good use this spring when he battles for playing time at another position stocked with young talent. George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, Will Mahone and a pair of incoming freshmen will all push Carlisle.
“I’ve been practicing on scout team,” he said. “It’s felt good, a little sore after back-to-back days, but I’ll definitely be 100 percent for spring ball.”