It was inevitable, the man who has anchored the Irish defense with such emotion and pride has come to the end of his journey at Notre Dame. Although the Irish still have the most important game of the year left to play, the BCS National Championship game, it doesn’t mean it’s too early to start looking at who will be replacing Manti Te’o on the 2013 squad. If you listen to most fans and experts, you need look no further than 2013 commit outside linebacker Jaylon Smith from Bishop Luers in Ft. Wayne ,In.
His recruitment list is basically a who’s who of college football, and the star outside linebacker could have gone anywhere he wanted. If you watched any video on him you know that he has a great first step and closes quickly. He attacks the opposition with good technique and always looks for ways to strip the ball. He is tall at 6’3 but at only 212 pounds, he will probably need to add a few pounds – which obviously he will. It will be interesting to see how Kelly uses him, but he has the shuttle and straight on speed and acceleration to succeed anywhere on the field. He is listed as the #1 outside linebacker in the nation and is the first Midwest prospect to garner a 5 star rating since 2010. If it sounds like we are over-hyping this young man, you haven’t paid enough attention to recruiting.
Obviously for any athlete just starting their collegiate career on the defensive side of the ball it is difficult to step in as a freshman and have a major impact, and that well may be the case with Smith. What we do know is that although the Irish are losing Manti Te’o to the graduation and the NFL draft, they are returning some extremely talented players to put around him and help him learn. If the Irish pair him up with another outside linebacker in Prince Shembo, they will have two very quick, strong, and athletic linebackers for opposing offenses to contend with. If the Irish line can provide the same type of penetration and run stopping ability that they have this year, it will only help Smith in making the transition from high school to major college football quickly.
Speaking of high school, Smith just won the Indiana Mr. Football award for the high school player of the year, and the Butkus Award for the nation’s top linebacker. By the way, all this after winning the state’s 2A state championship. In fact, his team won state in all four years of his high school career, so winning in big games is something he will be very familiar with. In choosing Notre Dame, Smith has basically turned down almost every team in the SEC, Oklahoma, Florida St. and half of the Big 10. If you listen to him speak, he sounds like a kid with passion, drive , and a plan. He comes across as someone who is very coachable, and wants to soak up every bit knowledge that is being dropped his way – are you excited yet?
So while in no way are saying that we want this year to end quickly and next year to hurry up and get here, we are saying that with the recruitment and commitment of this young man to the Irish should make the next four years a lot of fun on the defensive side of ball. If Kelly and staff keep recruiting at this type of level, the Irish fans will be in good hands for the foreseeable future.