Jaylon Smith came to South Bend in the 2013 recruiting class as one of the highest rated linebacker recruits in the nation. He earned a spot in the starting lineup become the first freshman to start at linebacker for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish since 1995. With all the attention and hype surrounding Smith before he got to Notre Dame, it has been refreshing to watch him live up to the hype in his freshman year and set himself up to be a leader of the Irish defense for years to come.
After losing some serious defensive talent off their BCS National Championship runner-up team of 2012, Notre Dame needed big contributions from young players in 2013. Smith answered the call, finishing No. 3 on the team with 61 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, one interception, and a forced fumble. He was one of the most impressive freshmen players this season in all of college football and stepped in to fill a major need for Notre Dame in 2013 at the linebacker spot.
His contribution will be even more important in 2014 as Notre Dame loses many key contributors on defense this offseason. Five of the team’s top 10 tacklers this season are seniors, including linebackers Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese, and Prince Shembo. That makes Smith the only linebacker returning for next season that appeared in at least 10 games in 2013. Notre Dame’s defensive front will be further depleted with defensive linemen Louis Nix III graduating and Stephon Tuitt quite possibly leaving school early to declare for the NFL draft. The Irish will need a leader to step up on defense and Smith may have to be the man for the job.
Smith came to South Bend with sky-high expectations and was able to deliver on his incredible potential right away as a freshman. Can he continue to build on his game and lead Notre Dame back to the top of the college football world in his collegiate career?