Easy Decision For One, Tough For Another

Brian Smith was confused. Notre Dame, his father's alma mater, pretty much ignored him the entire recruiting process, and now the standout linebacker from Overland Park, Kan. was beginning to hear from the Irish coaches. Smith had been wooed by several top programs in the country, verbally committed to Iowa, and now finally, Notre Dame is calling?

Well, Smith didn't know it, but the recently hired defensive coordinator Corwin Brown watched his film and envisioned Smith in the new defensive scheme he was bringing to Notre Dame. That's when things got confusing for Smith. Especially when his father Chris, a fullback at Notre Dame from 1981-84, told his son the Irish coaches have finally offered a scholarship.

This was January, and the 6-foot-3, 233-pound Smith had been committed to Iowa since August. But he always had doubts about being a Hawkeye, and with national signing day two weeks away, Smith was inside the pressure cooker.

When thinking about the possibility of going to Notre Dame, Smith couldn't get over the fact that they never showed him any love early, and now all of a sudden, they expected him to quickly decide that indeed his future was in South Bend.

"The best advice I got was from (Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Rob) Ianello," Smith said. "He was like, if you can put the ego aside just for a couple of days when you decide, of course we didn't want you then, but we want you now. You're coach Brown's guy. Coach Brown really likes you. This and that. That really hit me."

Smith sat with his parents inside their room trying to figure out the future.

"We were talking and everything," Smith said. "All of a sudden my Dad said, what is something Notre Dame can't offer you that Iowa can, if better? I was like, there is nothing Notre Dame can't offer that Iowa could offer.

"Coach Weis even told me, this is not a four-year decision, it's a 40-year decision. A Notre Dame degree will go a long way."

Smith's classmate and Irish teammate Kerry Neal thought the same thing. A fan since the fourth grade, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound linebacker saw Notre Dame as a chance to leave the daily hardships, and the one-stoplight town of Bunn, N.C., and do something special with his life. If the NFL isn't there, that degree will be. When Weis offered, Neal quickly became Notre Dame's first commitment of the 2007 class.

"I love it, it's like a dream come true, coming from Bunn, my little hometown, and coming here," Neal said. "It's a dream come true really.

"You really don't even get homesick. There is stuff you want to do, so it's wow I made it, and it was my goals that got me here."

Smith and Neal both have new goals now that they're on campus. And getting on the bus like they said, is just the start of them. They want to be impact players as true freshmen this fall. They certainly have a chance. Smith and Neal are competing with senior Anthony Vernaglia and junior Scott Smith at one of the outside linebacker spots. Sophomore John Ryan appears to have the other outside position locked down.

Even if the two don't start, with their skill sets, they will most likely be involved in certain packages. Smith had 126 tackles and nine sacks his final prep season. Neal, plays that true hybrid position in Brown's defense where he can line up as a defensive end or an outside linebacker on any given play, like he did in high school. His final year, Neal made 132 tackles with 30 coming for loss including 17 sacks. He also had four interceptions.

"Right now, who knows what the depth situation is," Smith said. "I haven't paid attention to all that. I've just been worrying about doing what I gotta do to get that good look and get on the bus."

"Right now, I'm just trying to get on the bus," Neal said. "I wouldn't know (the depth chart). You just have to keep working hard and keep pushing it, so hopefully."

On top of his duties as defensive coordinator, Brown specifically works closely with the outside linebackers. Smith and Neal said that Brown has really been coaching them up. As Weis always says, they really coach the guys they think can help them on Saturdays. Brown and Neal have a good chance of helping Saturday in the season opener against Georgia Tech.

"He'll get on you," Neal said. "That's what coaches are supposed to do."

Brown was one of the main attractions Smith had to Notre Dame. The way his father talked about how great his college experience was besides the losing seasons, also made a huge impression.

"I'd never want to go somewhere I can't win, because I associate not winning with being miserable," Smith said. "But if you cannot win and still have a good college experience, then that's saying a lot about the place."


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