IRISH STEW

Notre Dame's past, present, future LBs evaluate future

IRISH STEW

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Notre Dame fans received glimpses of both their past and present earlier this week, when former Irish linebacker Manti Te'o and current standout linebacker Jaylon Smith were interviewed during the "Notre Dame Day" celebration on und.com.

Te'o, now entering his third season with the San Diego Chargers, racked up 437 tackles, 34 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 7 interceptions and a slew of national awards in his four-year career in South Bend, which ended with an appearance in the national championship game in 2012.

And though he is no longer at Notre Dame, Te'o said that the program is in good hands with Smith, a junior linebacker from Fort Wayne.

“He and I are always in communication," Te'o said. "We’re always shooting texts back and forth. He has the right tools, not only physically but spiritually and mentally. He’s a hard-worker and he’s a leader. He plays the game the right way.”

Smith – a 6-foot-2, 235-pound linebacker – has started all 26 games of his Notre Dame career, compiling 106 tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss. And though his team is certainly stacked at the linebacker position, Smith took a moment during his interview to address the quarterbacks.

“I’m feeling great, starting off with two great quarterbacks," he said. "We don’t know who’s going to play. Both of them might play. We don’t know.

"Personally, I don’t care. I just want the guy that’s going to help us win.”

This week, the Tribune also spoke with incoming freshman Josh Barajas, who has garnered his fair share of Jaylon Smith comparisons. Both standout linebackers produced prolific prep careers in Indiana while also appearing in the U.S. Army All-American game.

“It’s a huge honor," Barajas said of the comparisons. "That’s a compliment you can’t take lightly.”

But though they share numerous similarities, Barajas emphasized that he still has much to learn.

“I look up to them like big brothers," Barajas said of Notre Dame's linebackers. "A couple years ago, it seemed like those guys were almost untouchable, like they were big celebrities. Now I get to play with them and get close to them and get to learn from them.

"Joe Schmidt and Jaylon, I can’t wait to learn from those guys.”

That will start this summer, when Barajas arrives in South Bend and the Irish continue to prepare for a promising 2015 season.

And Smith, for one, sees greatness straight ahead.

“This is the year, I believe," Smith said. "This is the year.”

Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith celebrates a big stop during Notre Dame's season-opening win over Rice,, Aug. 30 at Notre Dame Stadium. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)