Notre Dame football: Shembo’s motor always in high gear

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Somewhere between the campus pep rally for last season’s Michigan game and the national championship against Alabama, Prince Shembo became a defensive threat for Notre Dame.

No longer was Shembo the guy best known for standing on stage yelling about his stolen bike seat. Finishing the season with 51 tackles and 7.5 sacks, Shembo had transformed into a defensive disruption. Many eyes were focused on linebacker Manti Te’o and defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix leading an improved front seven, while Shembo’s presence lingered on the edge of the defense.

Ask head coach Brian Kelly about Prince Shembo and he’ll likely tell you offenses ignoring Shembo will be proven to be as foolish as media members doing the same.

“I think you guys are missing the boat on Prince Shembo,” Kelly said to the media following Saturday’s practice.

Shembo’s intensity has drawn the praise of the Irish coaching staff. Perhaps his pep rally speech should have been an early indicator.

Even in 7-on-7 drills, ones in which Shembo would have no coverage responsibilities and would be rushing the passer in game situations, the 6-2, 258-pound outside linebacker knocks receivers off their routes and creates his own chaos.

“The way he plays – the passion that he plays the game with every single play – it’s just so enjoyable,” Kelly said. “He’s a throwback in a lot of ways with his energy and his toughness and the way he comes to work every day. It’s 100 percent all in. And he plays the game with that chip where I’m going to do whatever’s necessary on this play to be disruptive. You almost have to take his helmet away from him.”

Shembo knows he’s given a helmet for a reason. The intensity he plays with spans back to the way his father taught him the game as a youngster.

“He said, ‘When you go out there they’re going to try to hurt you. So you gotta hurt them before they hurt you.’ I’ve just been thinking like that ever since,” Shembo said.

Shembo’s damage on the field has gradually increased through his first three seasons at Notre Dame. His sack total (7.5), tackles for loss (10.5) and total tackles (51) in 2012 all surpassed the numbers he tallied in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined. Shembo surged late last season, finishing with 5.5 sacks and 23 tackles in the last six games.

Satisfaction is unimaginable for the senior from Charlotte, N.C.

“Become a better pass rusher, a better run defender and just play with more energy,” Shembo said of his goals. “Get in better shape so I can just never get tired. If you can never get tired and let them get tired, you’re just going to take advantage of them.”

Shembo might be working with a V8 engine, but his compact size separates him from being a prototypical elite pass rusher. Asked if he’d rather be 6-4 or 6-5, Shembo pauses as if to soak in a thought he’s dreamed of countless times. After a moment, he asserts that he wouldn’t change a thing.

“I’ve asked a lot of linemen,’’ he said. “They don’t like to bend. Whenever I work on my leverage, it’s harder to block short guys. I don’t have the arm length of a taller person, but I make up for it with the strength of my legs.”

Shembo’s intensity may prove to be a catalyst for the Irish defense this season, but don’t expect to see him in the middle of huddles giving stirring speeches.

“I listen to everything. They’re the coaches, that’s their job,” Shembo said. “Just listen. I don’t need to say anything. Why do I have to talk? I’d rather listen. Most of the time when you talk, you talk too much and get in trouble. You’ll never get in trouble for listening.”

Instead, Shembo will more likely be noticed for being in the backfield of opposing offenses and having a jersey sweat-soaked to a darker shade.

“He’s a guy that’s not going to say much, but just his energy, his passion and his actions out on the field and the way he works,” Kelly said. “You can just see by his uniform that’s drenched every day about the work that he puts in every single day.”

Notre Dame’s Prince Shembo walks off the field following the 21-6 win over Boston College at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Mass., last November.