His high school, South Bend St. Josephs, is located just across the street from Notre Dame and his current summer job, a dining assistant at one of the school's restaurants, requires him spending much of the workweek on campus.
Yet however much his hometown university would seem like a perfect fit—Smallbone is quickly emerging as one of the state's top linebacker prospects—he insists that the Irish have all but been ruled out as a possible landing destination.
"I've been around them [Notre Dame] my entire life," Smallbone said. "I'd like to move on. I think It's better that I get away from home."
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound MLB/DE was first contacted by wide receivers coach Dennis Springer two months ago, and the two have since kept in touch via email and Facebook messaging. Smallbone camped at NU last week, where he engaged in position-specific drills with linebackers coach Randy Bates and defensive line coach Marty Long.
The hands-on instruction and overall intense, up-beat environment at the camp appealed to Smallbone, and he hopes to make it back on campus later this summer.
"It was a lot of fun, I definitely learned a lot," he said. "I liked the coaches and the vibe I got from working with them and just being out there in general."
Though he's yet to receive an offer from a Big Ten school, Smallbone has drawn interest from Michigan State, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana, along with a handful of MAC schools. He remains somewhat of an unknown commodity in national recruiting circles despite his dominance with St. Josephs, where for the past two seasons he's registered a combined 272 tackles while also lining up at receiver and tight end.
Armed with a defensive lineman's build and a safety's athleticism—Smallbone recently bench pressed 365 pounds and ran a 4.6, 40-yd dash—it's still unclear which position he'll play at the next level. Smallbone's preference is middle linebacker, his high school position, but he's willing to adjust to his team's needs.
"I like middle linebacker, it's what I'm used to playing," he said. "But I'm pretty flexible, I'll do whatever."
Although a decision won't be coming in the near future for Smallbone, he's indicated a preference for the Big Ten and spoke highly of NU's academic prestige, coach Fitzgerald and the program's rising momentum under his watch.
"It would be an honor to have Northwestern as an option," he said. "Its academics are great, they really pride themselves on that. And I can tell the team is definitely on the rise. Coach Fitzgerald has them going in the right direction."