Nov. 14, 2014
By Denise Skwarcan
Growing up in Mission Viejo, California, University of Notre Dame football safety Max Redfield lived just a short distance from miles of sandy beaches and ocean views that stretched as far as the eye could see. If you listen to the sophomore Irish safety talk for just a few minutes, it's clear that he is a West coast kid who took advantage of his surroundings.
"I really have a passion for the beach and, obviously, there's not a beach here (in South Bend)," Redfield says with a laugh. "At home it's just going with the boys and relaxing, playing beach volleyball and surfing. It's exhilarating to be on top of a wave, the water, the sun...it's just a great time."
It wasn't just a lack of surfing opportunities that made Redfield's first year in South Bend a little less than desirable. The five-star recruit's football expectations didn't quite live up to the reality of spending most of the 2013 season on the sideline.
"It was somewhat tough for me," Redfield says. "Obviously being highly-recruited I had visions of playing right away, and I wanted to do that because I thought I could contribute to the team. I was down on myself because I was trying to analyze and figure out what I was doing wrong so I could do better and get on the field."
That moment came in earnest when he received his first start in last year's season-ending Pinstripe Bowl victory over Rutgers. It is a job Redfield has not relinquished. In fact, after eight games, he ranked fourth in tackles for an Irish squad still in the hunt for a playoff spot. And the once proverbial fish out of water who was gasping for air as a rookie has started to find his way in the college football pond.
"A solid B," Redfield says when asked to grade himself through the first seven games of the season. "I've been able to capitalize on opportunities and I've also made mistakes. But I feel like I've been playing really well. I try to give everything on every play. I want to get better every day...so does the whole team."
Redfield has been preparing for his stint in the Irish secondary since he was four years old. Flag football eventually evolved into the real thing, but basketball and soccer also occupied his free time. His mom, Kathy, played soccer in college and his aunt, Joy Fawcett, is a World Cup champion and retired as the highest-scoring defender for the United States National Women's Soccer Team. While sports were never forced on Redfield, his parents definitely encouraged them. But it wasn't soccer or even football that tugged at Redfield's heartstrings.
"Basketball was actually my first love, and I still love it," says Redfield. "I also love playing football, but it was more of a business decision for me. I saw myself going farther with football because of the exposure I got from it in high school. It was after my sophomore year in basketball that I really started to focus on football because I'd had a really successful season."
As a senior at Mission Viejo High School in 2012, Redfield accounted for 65 tackles, four interceptions, four fumble recoveries and four blocked punts. As a wide receiver, he also added 45 receptions for 757 yards and six scores. Redfield's work earned him second-team USA Today All-America honors and the interest of several schools. Among them were Ohio State, Oregon, Oklahoma and USC, the school to which he initially gave his verbal pledge before switching gears in favor of the Irish.
"Notre Dame was the best decision for what I wanted because the academics are almost unmatched and obviously the athletics are great," says Redfield. "They were undefeated up to the point when I took my visit and committed and the alumni base is one of the best in the world. It's just an all-around great school. The weather is kind of rough, but I still thought Notre Dame would be the best for me.
"Obviously a person is going to miss their family being that far away from home. But I like adventures and my family encouraged me to do it. My mom said, `If it's the school for you, it's the school for you. I want you as close as possible but if it's far then that's what you need to do.' So she was behind me."
Despite playing in all 12 games during the 2013 regular season, the freshman blues plagued Redfield. He never contemplated quitting, though, and he worked through the trials and tribulations with the support of his teammates. Plus, Redfield knew his eventual Notre Dame degree also would serve him well in the future. But then a start in the bowl game and the arrival of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder gave Redfield new life. And rather than view it as having to learn his second new system in as many years, Redfield took it as the chance to start over with a clean slate.
And what a difference a year has made. Through 13 games in 2013, Redfield had a tackle total of 12 on the stat sheet and nothing else. But 2014 has proved to be much more successful. Through eight games, Redfield has more than tripled his tackle output with 38 in addition to two broken-up passes and his first career interception...in the blow-out victory over rival Michigan.
"For me, I am excited about Coach VanGorder being here," Redfield says. "I felt like if I was on the same learning curve as everyone else there should be no reason why I shouldn't pick it up just as fast as everyone else. Now my confidence level has grown, and physically I feel like I've gotten a little faster, a little quicker, little bigger. There are not really staggering differences, I'd say, but I can just tell.
"We all had to kind of grow into (this new defense), and it's a lot more aggressive style which has been a lot more fun for all of us."
These days, Redfield isn't just attacking opposing offenses. He's also using that same aggressive mindset to go after his goal of one day working as an operative for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)...a dream that has been building for a long time.
"I've always had an interest in criminal investigation and forensics. It kind of moved toward government agencies and I want to travel the world," Redfield says. "So it seems like a great job to carry out my craft and, I guess, to see the world. I've always enjoyed shows like CSI, but it was never one thing that made me decide this is what I want to do. I have just been exposed to a lot of different things."
The international economics major also is working on a minor in Mandarin Chinese. The ancient culture holds a fascination for Redfield who knows the language is widely spoken throughout the business world and fuels his desire to possibly work for CIA operations in China one day. He chuckles when asked if he realizes a 6-1, 198-pound African-American who plays football for one of the most visible college programs in the country - and world - might stick out in China, but he remains unfazed in his belief he could still work for an organization that values covert operations and undercover work.
"I feel like I could get around that...like the CIA could conceal the fact I work for them," says Redfield who might have the chance to travel to China for the first time this summer. "It depends on what your job is, and I'm sure if I matched all their requirements they would find a way."
In much the same way VanGorder has been able to disguise his defenses to allow Redfield and his teammates to wreak havoc for other teams. A defense that was young and inexperienced at the beginning of the 2014 campaign has gotten through the losses of several key players with hard work, intelligence and sheer physical determination. But Redfield and the rest of the defense are hardly resting on their laurels.
"We've been playing well but we've made mistakes on both offense and defense that we need to fix," Redfield says. "We like where we are at right now, although the loss (to Florida State) was unfortunate. The coaches are always harping on us about getting better every day, and everybody wants to get better. So we're not complacent, and we're going to keep moving forward."
Spoken like a man with a true plan.