More than 2,600 FBS players earn the moniker of "starter" in a given season. But a notable difference exists between technical starters, such as Zeke Motta in 2010, Brian Kelly's first season as Notre Dame head coach, and the senior safety that occupied the same #17 jersey for the Blue and Gold in 2012.
The former started and competed hard for the Irish, sometimes making the play, sometimes coming up a hair late or inches short, though lack of effort was never the cause of occasional failure.
The current Motta, the one who looked to inflict pain and purpose with every point of contact in 2012 and, through his tenacity and leadership of an impossibly green secondary, played well enough to earn Notre Dame's Defensive Player of the Year Award in what ranks as the best defensive season at the program since the mid-60s.
Its accepted that college players should develop, improve through confidence and repetition, and find their niche.
Motta's metamorphosis seems somehow greater.
"I can't pinpoint one particular thing. My growth as a human being, the people I've been around here at Notre Dame have all been great influences in my life to help me evolve the way that I have," said Motta.
"Out on the football field, I've taken notes and advice from certain people and really tried to put that into motion on the field, especially with our week-to-week preparation, it's inevitable (that you develop). Keep your body right. Go out and make as many plays as you can but at the same time you're playing for your boys -- the 'D-Boys' -- on the defensive side of the ball.
Bringing the Hammer
Antiseptic quotes regarding upcoming opponents are expected from modern college athletes. They're coached to toe the company line and avoid proverbial bulletin board material at all costs.
Players offer little insight into their true game day mindset as a result. Both thoughtful and intense in his interview sessions, Motta 2012 is a notable exception. Motta noted openly his desire to "put his hands on receivers," or "give them a pop" following, and perhaps, a touch after every whistle. That such activity wears on opponents. "Just letting them know you're there," as he put it.
It turns out Motta is always there, both between the lines and outside them, the latter where daily preparation makes game day performance possible.
"You're talking about a guy who does not quit, a guy whose work ethic you cannot measure, because that guy will outwork anybody, every day, every single rep," said team MVP Manti Te'o. "He and (Cat LB) Prince Shembo are the two guys who really inspire me. Coach (Diaco) talked about how I practiced the hardest I've practiced all year.
"One, that's because I realized that my time here is running out; and two, because I have guys around me that are that example for me, even for myself, that I can always give more, and Zeke Motta is someone who always gives (everything). Not only for himself but because that's how much he cares about this team, and that's how important this game is to him."
Contributors since their true freshman seasons under Charlie Weis in 2009 (Motta played 166 special teams snaps, third on the squad), Te'o and Motta will run out of time together following Monday night's title tilt.
Their first season ended without a bowl and a deposed coaching staff that recruited them to South Bend. Their final campaign will conclude in Miami, with game week celebrating them as one of the nation's two most celebrated teams.
"Leaving from South Bend, you got white snow on the ground and landing here, you got the sun and the palm trees. I’m from [Florida] so it’s good to be back," said Motta. "You dream about this moment and to have this opportunity to be able to play in Florida, it’s just amazing and a blessing.”
A blessing his coordinator and mentor, Bob Diaco, counts among many.
"This is a tough, tough individual. I mean, not only contact tough, mentally tough," said Diaco. "If you were going to any kind of battle to do any kind of competitive anything, you'd want to take Zeke Motta with you."
Motta and the rest of his 'D-Boys' have one more battle to win.
“It’s just a matter of will," Motta said. "This game is all about passion and how you play it. We’ve come into some close situations where we’ve proved to be the bigger team."
Now they have to prove they're the best.