Brian Smith's sophomore season was similar to many of his teammates' and to Notre Dame's as a program, up and down.
But Smith learned plenty of lessons and is confident that they will help him going forward. Mostly, there are two things that Smith says will stick with him for a long time. The first is the memory of suffering a sprained MCL against Navy that kept him out of the final two regular season games.
"A lineman tried to cut me and he's laying in front of me and (the receiver) comes from the outside and hits my knee from the outside," Smith recalls. "My leg had nowhere to go because of the guy in front of me. I felt it buckle a little bit. I didn't hear anything pop; I wasn't in excruciating pain. I thought it was just a minor sprain, but it turned out to be a partial tear."
The Midshipmen like to cut and sometimes approach the line of legality.
"We've seen on film that they cut from outside in, receivers coming in and cutting. They told the refs that that's illegal before the game and they've got to call that and they did call the penalty," says Smith. "The penalty is not going to get my knee back 100%. But like I said it's a part of the game. You live, you learn, you move on."
The pain of the injury was not the hardest part.
"It's very frustrating because I haven't ever had an injury where I had to miss a game besides in sixth grade. It hurt more than the injury itself, not being able to be out there with my teammates helping them win the game," says Smith. "It just comes with the game. My father told me you don't want to rush the injury to get back because if you treat the game right it's going to treat you back right."
Like a quarterback, Smith used the time away from the field to learn.
"When I watch film I see the bigger picture from the sideline and I can be able to tell Toryan (Smith), ‘When you see this you're going to get this,' or ‘This is going to happen off of this look,'" says Smith. "So I've learned from standing on the sidelines."
But Smith expects to be back 100% on the practice field tomorrow, well before the Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl on Christmas Eve.
"I feel like I'm ready now, but they've got to do the precautionary thing so they said Thursday I'll be ready to go," says Smith. "I got rolled up (Friday) on the sidelines on the same knee and I didn't feel any pain in it at all."
The other thing that will stick with Smith well past the end of the season is the feeling that he had during the regular season finale at Southern Cal.
"The pain of them feeling that they were just better," Smith says. "I don't ever want anyone to think that they're better than me, even if you are. If I'm going against Orlando Pace I'm not going to say Orlando Pace is better than me because at the same day that we're on the field together we've still got to go against each other.
"It was just pain going through my heart when I saw those players mocking our players, our coaches, our staff. Lendale White was coming out of the tunnel talking his junk too. It was just frustrating. It definitely will be in my mind for a long time, all of the way until we play them next year."
But for now all of his focus is on Hawai'i. Smith is an avid college football fan, but admits that he has not caught any of the Warriors' games aside from last year's blowout loss to Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. However, Smith has seen Hawai'i's Haka Dance and approves.
"I saw it I was like, ‘Oh, that's tight, I want to be a part of that. Teach me the moves, I'll do it with you guys before the game,'" he laughed.
Considering Smith's history with the opposition before games, it is highly unlikely that he will be doing any dances with the Warriors on Christmas Eve, but he may not engage in his pregame trash talk either.
"Whatever happens happens. I don't ever plan going in somewhere. I really didn't plan it when I got caught on film at Boston College doing it. I wasn't really planning it, I got caught up in the emotions," he says. "It was a nighttime game, a rival kind of game so it just overwhelmed me. I've tried, like I said before, to kind of tame my emotions and I've been working on that lately."
2008 may not have turned out the way Smith or his teammates had hoped, but their maturity is starting to show with the way that they are trying to grow from it.
"I've learned so much football with Coach Tenuta and Coach Brown both combining their ideas together," says Smith. "I've learned so much, especially playing middle linebacker I feel like I was more of a part of the defense this year than I was last year. It has just been a lot fun."