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August 31, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Jaylon Smith officially announced his presence on the first play of his college career.
Smith started at outside linebacker for Notre Dame in its 28-6 win over Temple, becoming the first true freshman to start at linebacker in an opener for the Irish since Kory Minor in 1995. Seconds later the former five-star prospect joined defensive end Stephon Tuitt for a tackle.
“He understands everything,” said safety Matthias Farley. “He plays fast. He plays aggressive. He’s real eager to learn and he’s picked up everything really fast. There wasn’t, to my knowledge, any ‘Jaylon do this. Jaylon do that.’ He was definitely on his business.”
Whatever direct statistical impact Smith, who wasn’t made available to media after the game, had ended right there with the first assisted tackle. Officially, it was his only stat in the box score.
But taking stock of his performance went beyond the data.
Smith ascended into the starting role after hemiplegic migraines forced incumbent Danny Spond to retire midway through fall camp. The Ft. Wayne product then went into a heads up competition with junior Ben Councell, who has been working at the drop outside linebacker position since arriving on campus.
That process let Smith look poised on the job during critical moments on Saturday.
“He looked good,” said inside linebacker Dan Fox, who led the team with 10 tackles. “My first college game, I was so nervous. He looked real comfortable going out there and playing. I thought he did a good job.”
Smith wasn’t without mistakes.
Playing the drop position requires more finesse than power, often slipping into coverage as a pseudo-nickel back against slot receivers and tight ends to the wide side of the field. Proper alignment eluded Smith at times.
“He did some pretty good things,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “He played like a freshman. He was a little out of place at times. But in some instances, he obviously has great athletic ability. Closes very well. But it’s probably what we expected of him. I think he played like a freshman today. Played with some great energy. He’s got great speed and athleticism.
“But he’s got a lot of work to do as well in terms of being in the right place, forcing the football, being in the curl. He missed a curl a couple of times but I’m sure glad he’s on our football team.”
As are his teammates. Fox saw an engaged player in Smith even as he and Councell rotated in and out of the game.
“We were just all attentive and ready for the coaching from the sidelines,” Fox said. “He was always there. He was always cheering on Councell when he was in. He’s a real team player.”
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