For many players, roles are set and easily defined. For senior outside linebacker Steve Filer, the only constant has been the need to adapt. In his four years at Notre Dame, Filer has seen time at all linebacker positions, on the defensive line and special teams, the area where the Chicago native has made his mark most emphatically.
"I just do whatever is needed. I can play pretty much any position," Filer said. "I've played both sides of outside linebacker, both ends, a little inside backer, pretty much whatever the defense needs me to do. You have to be a team player no matter what your circumstances are."
In a cruel twist to his senior campaign, Filer suffered a season-ending knee injury in practice on Nov. 10, effectively ending his playing career at Notre Dame. Fellow senior linebacker Darius Fleming wore Filer's No. 46 jersey against Maryland as a tribute to his injured classmate. Though Filer will not play against Boston College on Senior Day, his impact can be seen all over the field.
Filer came to Notre Dame as a much-heralded recruit out of Mount Carmel High School in Chicago, where he was named Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year in 2007 and appeared on numerous All-American lists. Filer made an impact early on for the Irish on special teams and as a reserve linebacker while appearing in the team's final 11 games.
The adjustment to the college game was a learning process, Filer said.
"You have to realize that there's always a microscope on you. Everyone always analyzes everything you do," Filer said. "On top of that, the speed of the game is way faster than in high school. You have to realize that you may not be the best player on the field, but everything that's good is worth working for."
The succeeding two years saw Filer become a special teams force, leading the team in special teams tackles in both his sophomore and junior years, while competing for time at outside linebacker behind Fleming and former Irish linebacker Brian Smith. Filer registered one-and-a-half sacks and a forced fumble on top of 32 tackles during the two seasons.
While Irish fans have long drooled over Filer's size and athleticism, the kind showcased by a YouTube video in which Filer jumps out of a pool of waist-deep water, the senior's leadership may be what is missed most in the remainder of his injury-shortened senior year and beyond.
Having led the team in special teams appearances as a junior, Filer has helped to instill a pride in special teams play among young players like Bennett Jackson and Austin Collinsworth, whose contributions in this often overlooked segment of the game have helped to continue Filer's legacy.
"I take a lot of pride in that part of the game because [special teams play] just shows that you don't need to be an offensive or defensive player to make an impact," Filer said. "Special teams is just as important as any play on offense or defense, and we have to bring the younger players up the right way or else they won't do things the right way when they're older. We were taught a lot of things by guys like [former Irish linebacker Maurice] Crum and [former Irish linebacker] Scott Smith and I try to continue that tradition. Players can be coaches too."
For Filer, the thrill of playing for Notre Dame has not worn off since his first trip through the tunnel in 2008.
"I'll miss that feeling when you walk out onto the field for the first time, because it's the same the second time and the third," Filer said. "All that just really takes your breath away."
On top of that, Filer said his teammates and friends at Notre Dame will be what he misses most when is time under the dome is done.
"The people I've met here have gotten me into all kinds of new things, and I'm a smarter person than I was when I got here," the former Dillon Hall resident said. "The memories of big wins and just being with my teammates are what bring a team together. Those are the things that you will remember for the rest of your life."
Filer, a management-consulting major with a minor in anthropology, has not ruled out trying to make a living in the NFL, though he looks forward to a possible career in consulting. The senior's attitude toward work echoes that of his approach to football.
"They say it's a lot of hours," Filer said. "But when you're doing something you love, you never work a day in your life."