Follow the Leader

Unheralded Irish linebacker Scott Smith steps into the limelight as the 2009 special teams captain.

Plenty of players show bluster. They posture. They exhort. They appear to rank as a team's vocal leader – and they're the type of players fans assume their teammates gravitate toward simply because the cameras do.

Scott Smith does not fall into this category. And unless you're a diehard Notre Dame fan – the type that follows depth chart movement and special defensive packages, there's a chance you can't recall a play made by Notre Dame's 2009 Special Teams Captain and 5th-year senior linebacker Scott Smith.

But that should change this fall.

"(Before speaking of his other values," began Irish head coach Charlie Weis, "before I get into (the rest of his attributes), I'm going to tell you what he is – he's consistent player on special teams; and he's a contender at Sam Linebacker, especially vs. the teams that want to pound you because he has very good strength."

Smith and sophomore Darius Fleming are battling for the SLB ("SAM") spot with the runner-up likely to receive plenty of game action.

"But what he is more than anything else," said Weis of Smith, "anytime he's not on the field, he makes sure everyone else (on the sidelines) knows what's going on. He doesn't let people not pay attention. He's on them. It's like that on defense and on special teams.

"There isn't a play he takes off when he's on the sideline. He's making sure the young guys know what the plays are; making sure they know what the assignments are…and he's also stepped up and taken the responsibility to do those things (even if he doesn't win the starting SLB spot)."

Extensive film review of Smith's (just under) 22 minutes of playing time last season showed a role player that was prepared to make the most of his limited opportunities:

  • Smith's a physical, aggressive player that knows his defensive assignment. He played a key role in Notre Dame's three-play goal line stand at Michigan State that limited the Spartans to a fourth quarter field goal and kept the Irish within striking distance at 16-7. Smith held the edge vs. State running back Javon Ringer on third-and-goal from the one-yard line, destroying the lead blocker and forcing Ringer to bounce outside where teammates Brian Smith and Harrison Smith finished him off for a five-yard loss.
  • One week later, Smith recorded three tackles in kick-return coverage vs. Purdue, two at the 20-yard line and one at the Boilers 12-yard line when the game was deadlocked at 14.
  • Later in the season, Smith forced a fumble vs. Syracuse, recovered by Toryan Smith and eventually returned by CB Gary Gary to the Orange 5-yard line.
  • By the season's final game in Hawaii, a confident, game-tested (190 special teams appearances) Smith ranked as one of the team's four best linebackers and responded with his first career sack in the 49-21 victory.

Smith's approach mirrors what you'd expect from a relatively lightly-recruited-player-turned 5th-year senior captain.

"It's something I enjoy – being down in the trenches and having to battle knowing your backs are up against the wall.

"The goal is to meet and defeat blocks, whether it be the tight end or the tackle coming around. Whatever position you play you still have to meet and defeat, play downhill."

Smith's explanation of the essence of his position sounds a bit like coach-speak…the rhetoric used by those in the sport that would rather not speak in hyperbole or elaborate on the nuances of every play. Which stands to reason, considering his head coach's view of the surprise captain selection.

"He's probably one of the most underrated leaders that people outside of our building (would never know)" added Weis of Smith. "Because he's one of the guys that whether it be special teams or defense that people are turning to because he's almost like having another coach on the field. He's as vocal of a guy as we have when it comes to doing things the right way."

Leadership; goal line toughness; outstanding special teams play. Smith will be a jack-of-all-trades this season and could shine in the "fourth" linebacker role – the first LB off the bench that knows each assignment and, more importantly, brings a physical approach from play-to-play. He won't lead the team in tackles, highlights, or any glorified statistical category, but Smith will make his presence felt on a handful of key plays this season.

CNNSI's basketball writer Seth Davis publishes an annual column midway through each basketball season with a list of what he refers to as "Glue Guys." Players that aren't generally recognized names to casual fans, but whose contributions prove invaluable over the course of a successful season.

Smith ranks as the 2009 Notre Dame football team's obvious Glue Guy – the ideal 5th-year senior – a player that not only knows his role, but imparts his knowledge to his younger teammates. As Weis explained:

"He does it as much off the field as he does it on the field."


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