Growing up in a household with a father who played football at Notre Dame, Brian Smith always wanted to suit up for the Irish.
"(My Dad) actually has his helmet in the house," Smith said of his father Chris, who played fullback for Notre Dame from 1981-1984. "So growing up when I saw that golden helmet, I was like I'm going to wear that one day."
But despite being a standout high school player, Smith wasn't not offered a scholarship to Notre Dame until January of his senior year after already verbally committing to Iowa. Coach Weis talked about why it took so long to offer Smith, who has grown into a 6-3, 245-pound frame.
"He wasn't 6-3, 245. He was significantly smaller than that and he was bouncing back between an inside linebacker and an outside linebacker and you really couldn't get a grasp at which he would be best at," Weis said. "But then when you said you were going to play more of that type on the field, then his versatility became a huge asset rather than initially a tough one to figure out what are you going to do with him. And that's where we were when we first started the process."
For Smith, playing at Notre Dame is about more than football.
"I'm continuing the legacy. My father is a Notre Dame guy, he raised me a Notre Dame guy. Now it feels like I'm out here continuing the legacy," he said. "I'm out here having fun playing with Notre Dame guys. He played with Mike Golic and now I'm playing with his son, so now it's all kind of tied in together. It's really unique how it turned out."
For Weis, having Chris Smith familiar with the process is beneficial.
"Well, the one big advantage is that, when I have a problem, I can just call Dad because they have already been there done that," Weis said. "It really helps from my standpoint with him because he has been bred, and he knows the whole mentality of the place and he has a lot of pride walking in the door. So on top of his athleticism, he has already had the spirit and pride for the place which I think only makes him want to be successful that much more."
Smith played fullback like his father until he was a junior in high school, but said once he played linebacker, "It was a wrap after that."
Now after having a breakout freshman season at outside linebacker that included 25 tackles, four behind the line of scrimmage and an interception return for a touchdown, Smith has been moved inside.
"The guy that's in the position to make the most plays is actually that (Mike) position," Weis said. "So, as we went through the spring, the guy that was making the majority of the plays on a daily basis was (Smith)."
Smith said that there was an initial adjustment period and he was unaware of how well he was doing.
"At first in the spring, outside I felt more comfortable and I would know when I'm making plays. Then when they moved me to Mike in the spring, I guess I was making plays, but I wouldn't know because I wasn't as comfortable as I was," Smith commented. "But Coach Weis said I was making plays day in and day out. So that's all I wanted to do at the end of the day.
"I was just going on instinct. Coach Tenuta would teach me, I'd do what Coach Tenuta told me. I'd just do it and if I made a play, I made a play. Sometimes I didn't do it, but I was in the right spot at the right time."
But now Smith feels good at both spots and is ready to help the team anyway he can.
"I feel comfortable just on the field, you know I just want to make the team better. I want to be out there with the other guys competing to win games. So whenever I'm on the field, wherever I'm at, I'm going to give it my all," he said. "I don't care if they put me back there to punt the ball one game, I'm going to become the best punter. I expect the most out of myself and I expect to make plays wherever I'm at on the field."
Weis was not willing the say that Smith's starting linebacker position is set in stone, but did say that was a safe bet.
"Everyone's job is up, but I'm saying, unlike some years previous, I think there are some guys slotted into a spot and they're going to have to get beat out and I would say he's one of them," said Weis.
Smith is confident that the relationship between defensive coordinator Corwin Brown and linebackers coach John Tenuta is going to be a special one.
"They'll melt perfect together," Smith said. "When I come into the meeting room, I see them talking and they're sitting down putting ideas together. It's like two great minds making one great defense. It's going to be great. They're going to work well together."
SMITH FILLS IN FOR SMITH: The move of Brian Smith inside opened up a spot for sophomore safety Harrison Smith to move closer to the line of scrimmage. Weis said that with the emergence of the spread offense, having a safety that can play linebacker helps with flexibility.
Smith is behind safeties David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy on the depth chart and rather than have him sit behind those two, the staff feels like it would be better to get him on the field as a linebacker.
Harrison Smith admitted that he likes safety, but has been surprised with how easy he has made the transition to linebacker.
"I really thought it would be a lot harder, but the more positions that you know on defense, even if you know what the defensive line is doing or the corners are doing, the better you know where you fit," Smith said. "A lot of the assignments are really similar. The only difference playing outside linebacker is the depth for the offense. It's really just getting used to that look, but mostly everything else is the same.
"I feel like I was always pretty physical playing safety, so I feel like I can switch to that pretty easy."
Smith is most excited about getting the chance to play after not seeing any game action as a freshman.
"It's a good feeling knowing that I can get on the field and help the team contribute with special teams, defense, whatever," he said.
GRAY EXCITED TO GET BACK: Another sophomore excited to get back on the field is cornerback Gary Gray, who missed all of 2007 with a shoulder injury.
"It feels great to be back out there. Not being able to participate last year except on special teams was kind of hard," Gray said. "I'm just trying to get adjusted with playing."
Gray is in a competition with junior Raeshon McNeil to take over the left cornerback position in the absence of Darrin Walls. Gray said that, much like the competition at running back, him and McNeil are friends.
"Me and Raeshon joke around all of the time. We compete everyday against each other, we clap for each other when someone does a good job and when they mess up we'll say step it up," Gray said.
Gray said that he is trying to improve his ability as a defensive back everyday.
"My technique with press man and zone coverage and I've got to work on my nickel technique too," he said.
ANOTHER TECHNICIAN: Junior defensive end Morrice Richardson said that so far everything has been more enjoyable, but like Gray, said that he is trying improve his technique.
"Practice has been fun, a whole lot more fun. I have a long way to go. I have a lot of things I need to work on," he said. "Becoming the complete technician, using my hands, getting my footwork down, reading the offensive line."
Richardson said that he is trying to study Sam Young, Michael Turkovich and Paul Duncan now and that hopefully that will carry over to the season. Like Brian Smith, Richardson said that he is willing to do whatever the coaches want him to do to help the team.
"I see myself as a defensive end, but if Coach Brown came to me tomorrow and said, ‘Morrice, I need you to play safety.' I'd say, ‘All right, let's go.'"
SECOND NUMBER STILL A 2: It seems that wide receiver Duval Kamara has yet to get under 220 pounds like Weis wants. Kamara wore #60 for the third straight day to open camp.