NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Elijah Shumate is part of the changing of the guard in the Irish defensive backfield this season. The sophomore is the only new face in line to potentially start in the Notre Dame secondary if he holds onto the safety spot he has been working at this fall after the graduation of last year's starter Zeke Motta.
"It's been a great experience," said Shumate of his work at safety this fall. "Coaches and players have been helping me out in getting prepared. I've just been working hard every day."
Shumate's main job as a true freshman last year was working as Notre Dame's nickelback, but his duties are different now as a sophomore going back to safety.
"It's just a lot of communication (and) it's just a lot of talking," said Shumate of the differences between the two jobs. "You've just got to do a lot of learning and that was my biggest problem. The coaches and players have been helping me out - all the players."
"They're both tough positions," he continued. "They both take different responsibilities. Safety is more talkative - more communication (and) cornerback is more like 'do your job'. They both take two different things, so they're both tough positions."
Shumate played in all 13 games in 2012, but the bulk of his work was on special teams. Playing in the nickel position was obviously in a reserve role when the Irish needed an extra defensive back. Transitioning to being a starter at safety has meant a lot of work for the sophomore over the past eight months.
"A lot of film study," Shumate said of what he has done to prepare to play safety. "(And) a lot of doing extra work and stuff like that. Just coaches helping me out every day and me just working my butt off and trying to learn as much as I can."
"I learn all types of ways," Shumate continued. "Observing is good too - just sticking it in my head from listening to the coaches and a lot of the other players just helps a lot."
Various Notre Dame "players" and "coaches" have helped Shumate to go back to the safety position he played at Don Bosco Prep High School in New Jersey, but none have helped more than his position coach Bob Elliott.
"I came in as a safety, but I played a lot of corner in nickel last year," said Shumate. "So I didn't get a lot of safety work and I was really raw. Everything about playing safety was him and a lot of the players."
Another person who has helped Shumate get his legs underneath him is the safety with the most experience at the position - Matthias Farley. Shumate says the two watch film together nearly every day.
"Matthias has been great," said Shumate. "He's a great leader and a great player. He's definitely been helping me out (and) so have all the other defensive backs."
The biggest transition Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said Shumate had to make last spring was taking his knowledge from the film room to the field. Shumate was absorbing the film off the field, but he was still thinking too much when he got back on the field.
"When you prepare yourself in the right way it becomes second nature," said Shumate. "That's when you're able to just go out there and just play.
"I'm a work in progress," Shumate continued. "I'm learning every day and I'm going to keep continuing to learn."
Farley is the most definite of the starters at safety. Shumate would appear to be a solid bet for a job next to him, with his closest competition being senior Austin Collinsworth, who missed all of last season with shoulder and back injuries. Shumate did not want to go far out on a limb this week when asked what he needs to do to clamp down on the starting job.
"I'm just going to leave that up to the coaches," said Shumate. "I'm going to work hard every day."
The depth at the safety position took a hit when Nicky Baratti went down with a shoulder injury of his own last week, but Eilar Hardy and John Turner are both there to keep the numbers high and the competition for a job intense.
"We're all working," Shumate said. "We're all hard workers. Everybody in the secondary works hard. We've got great coaches (and) great players. Great coaches and great players create great things. We're all a work in progress (and) we're all going to try to keep getting better and better every day."