Standing six feet tall and weighing just 198 pounds, Irish senior safety Jamoris Slaughter may not look like he lives up to his last name. But looks can be deceiving.
"They hear Slaughter, they think of football and then they see me in person and they say ‘Oh, he's small,'" he said. "Then they see me on the field and they see me hitting and playing with the big boys. I like that name Slaughter."
Slaughter chose Notre Dame — instead of a local Georgia team — because of the opportunity to play big-time college football and receive a great education as well.
"There was a lot of pressure [to go to Georgia]," Slaughter said. "Coaches from my little league and high school were big Georgia fans so I had a lot of pressure to go there. But I chose Notre Dame because I felt like it was best for me."
The hard-hitting safety from Stone Mountain, Ga. was part of the heralded 2008 recruiting class that included fellow senior defensive back Robert Blanton.
"Jamoris is another guy just like Robert [Blanton] where you watch these guys play and say they give you some versatility because you can play them at safety, you can play them at corner, you've got corner cover skills with safety ability, but then you can put them at safety and not limit yourself to just having limited range and just bringing everyone in here that played strong safety," former Irish coach Charlie Weis said on signing day of 2008.
When he arrived at Notre Dame, Slaughter moved to cornerback for his freshman year under Weis. A year later, he moved back to safety and has been used in a variety of roles this year.
"As we've talked about, we love Jamoris Slaughter and what he can do," Irish coach Brian Kelly said. "He's a playmaker. We've played him at an invert linebacker position against the option teams. He's played nickel for us, and now when we get into games where there's skill on the field, three wides, four wides, we want to match that, and Jamoris gives us the ability to do that, and if you want to run the ball, he's physical enough to stick his nose in there."
In Notre Dame's 24-17 win over Wake Forest, Kelly moved Slaughter into the "dog" linebacker position, replacing sophomore linebacker Prince Shembo. The Irish, who trailed 17-10 at halftime, did not allow a second half point in the come-from-behind victory.
"As you know, we went more nickel in the second half with Jamoris Slaughter going in for Prince," Kelly said after the game. "It wasn't that Prince didn't play well, but they put him in space against skill players."
Slaughter also dropped down to play nickel back and dog linebacker during the 59-33 victory over Air Force. The move paid immediate dividends.
"I came in as a corner and I played some nickel with Coach Weis' staff on scout team," Slaughter said. "I understood it so I picked it up really quick during the spring when they moved me there."
On the Falcons' first play from scrimmage, Air Force running back Asher Clark dashed for 29 yards before Slaughter forced a fumble, giving the ball back to the Irish with a 7-0 lead.
"I go in to every game with the mindset that I need to make plays," Slaughter said. "I was so happy that I made those plays because we needed those especially in the beginning of the game."
But Slaughter was not done yet.
With the Irish up 28-9 in the second quarter, Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson dropped back and threw a flare into the flat. Slaughter tipped the ball in the air before making a diving interception to force his second turnover of the game.
"I was just reading the ball," Slaughter said. "I think it was just natural instincts. I'm known at practice for tipping the ball and making acrobatic catches. It's something I do every day. I was just happy I came down with the ball."
The game marked Slaughter's first breakout performance after just six career starts before this year.
Last year, Slaughter earned the starting safety position entering the season. In the opening game against Purdue, however, he injured his foot. The injury plagued Slaughter throughout his junior year.
"That was hard to deal with," Slaughter said of the injury. "It was my first year getting some real playing time and to get hurt that first game, it kind of set me back. I still kept fighting. This year, I've just been pushing and trying to do good every game."
Over his four years at Notre Dame, Slaughter has worked with two different head coaches — including two different defensive schemes as well.
"I took it on pretty good," Slaughter said of the coaching change. "The new coaches that came in were very welcoming. I got along good with [safeties coach Chuck] Martin and [cornerbacks coach Kerry] Cooks and the whole defensive staff. It was a good transition."
Slaughter described Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's defense as one based on teamwork.
"Everybody has to play their role," Slaughter said. "Each person has something that's key to the defense. If each person does their job, everything will flow."
Slaughter credits the secondary's success this year to a change in mentality.
"We've always had good [defensive backs]," Slaughter said. "It was just a mentality [issue]. Sometimes at [defensive back], if you give up a play, everyone will look at you bad and I think that's what went on in the years before. I think now, we're trying to stay focused and play well."
Slaughter, who describes his game as physical and smart, attributes his play to his own thought process.
"I have that mentality that even though I'm small, I can still lay a big hit," Slaughter said. "I think that has a lot to do with it. A lot of people my size that probably can't do it because they don't have that mentality."
Off the field, the industrial design major has found an entertaining interest: rapping.
Before the Sun Bowl last season, Slaughter rapped at the talent show, dropping lines like "Fighting Irish all the way from Indiana, come to El Paso, drop it like a hammer." He said he wrote the song on the bus ride to the show. Slaughter, however, rapped regularly with former Irish running back Armando Allen and junior running back Cierre Wood.
"We've always been close ever since me and Armando got here and then when Cierre got here, we've always hung out," Slaughter said. "It was just something that clicked together. We all rapped so we decided to start making songs."
In the spring, Slaughter released a song titled "Skylar Diggins" to commemorate the women's basketball run to the Final Four. The song quickly spread across campus.
"The girls were going to the Final Four, it was a big event for our school and the women's basketball team," Slaughter said. "I might as well make a song about it. It was fun."
Notre Dame's seven wins through 10 games are the most for any Irish team during Slaughter's tenure, a fact that has to do with chemistry, Slaughter said.
"We have a lot more chemistry now within the team, player to player, coach to coach. I think a lot of that really helps when it comes to winning games."
With just two regular season games remaining for the Irish, Slaughter is optimistic about Notre Dame's chances.
"I think we're going to win each game," Slaughter said. "I think we'll only have three losses and go out on top [and] change the culture around here."