Turning Heads

Notre Dame commitment Scott Smith has always turned heads. Before entering high school, rumors swirled that there was a 6-2 eight grader that could dunk a basketball. The rumors were true, and soon after arriving to high school, coaches started noticing his football talents.

"The first time I heard of Scott, he was leaving eight grade and playing summer basketball," said Highland Park (Ill.) head football Coach Kurt Weinberg, Scott Smith's coach. "People said there was this 6-2 kid that could dunk a basketball.

"Then I noticed his ability on the football field while playing defensive end as a freshman. He rushed the passer, and directly after the quarterback let go of the ball, he batted the ball up in the air, dove, and intercepted the pass."

Coach Weinberg has had the luxury of coaching Smith for three years and sees this year as having more promise than last, when Highland Park finished 6-5, won their first playoff game, and lost their second.

For his team to reach that promise, coach Weinberg realizes that much of this year's team success depends on Smith, who now stands 6-4 and weights 230 pounds.

"We want to get better, that's the main thing," coach Weinberg said. "We want to advance in the playoffs and go to the playoffs in back-to-back years.

"Our strength is our experience. We have fourteen starters returning, with Scott being the focal point.

"If Scott doesn't have a good year, we won't have a good year. He's it for us. He captains our team, plays some tight end and split end, and runs our defense. Other players also look to him."

Smith also has high expectations of this year's squad. In addition to wanting to improve on last years performance, Smith recognizes last year's weaknesses, this year's strengths, and understands his role on a team that suffered its first loss last week.

"We want to win a conference championship," Smith said. "We haven't done that in a long time and that's our first priority.

"This year's team has more talent at the skill positions, and because of this, we can run different personal packages. Last year we were mostly one-dimensional.

"Now we have three running backs to work with, can run double tight ends, or spread the field if we want. We got off to a rocky start in last week's game and we were surprised. But it's important for us to stay positive, and that's part of my role as a leader."

Smith's athletic ability has always made him a leader by example, but Smith understands the importance of improving, refining, and developing his game, especially after watching film of last season.

"I've been working on my technique," the senior linebacker said. "Staying low is important, especially at the middle linebacker position because offensive linemen are trying to knock you off balance.

"Last year I noticed that when I did something incorrect, or got in trouble defensively, it was because I was too high. This is why I have been doing a lot of reps and learning how to rip through the arms of offensive lineman when they are trying to make blocks."

Smith's desire to do the little things to make his football skills better is an extension of his maturity. Coach Weinberg sees this on daily basis and believes this will serve Smith well when he arrives on the Notre Dame campus next fall.

"Scott is a phenomenal guy, and an even a nicer human being," Weinberg said. "He's intelligent, smart, well respected by his teammates and teachers, and treats others the way he wants to be treated.

"He's taken committing to Notre Dame so well; it's just a sign of his maturity. He did a lot of visits, and his father has been heavily involved in his recruiting. Plus, Scott knows how to take care of himself, and I think he will prosper because of this."

Once in South Bend next fall, Smith plans to take advantage Notre Dame guided first year studies program. Doing so will aid in Smith's transition from high school to college.

"Once I get to Notre Dame I think it will be important for me to use all the available resources Notre Dame offers," Smith said. "The first year studies program at Notre Dame is great because I won't have to worry about my major yet. Plus, I will use the assistance the program offers."

For now, the athletic and mature Smith isn't worried about Notre Dame. Instead, he's focused on keeping his teammates' attitude up and getting and edge next week's opponent be watching film.

After all, Smith no longer turns heads. Opponents know him, and not only know what he brings to the table, but what he's cable of doing on the football field.

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