Notre Dame TE Durham Smythe completes comeback at bowl
Durham Smythe’s pain became a Will Fuller footnote.
When Fuller scampered over the goal line with 12 seconds left in Notre Dame’s 34-27 victory over Virginia, driving a stake through the collective Cavalier heart, Smythe heard it, but he didn’t see it. He didn’t see the throng of fans nestled on the grassy hill crammed behind the end zone, bottling up, waiting to storm the field. He didn’t see that same crowd rapidly dissipate as elation turned to anguish, an avalanche melting into a stunned, dejected puddle. He didn’t see DeShone Kizer sprint the 39 yards to Fuller, his arms outstretched, his joy overflowing.
Instead, Smythe lay on a table on the Notre Dame sideline, nursing what was left of his right knee.
“That was a wild 20 seconds,” recalled Smythe, who tore his MCL on the play prior to Fuller’s touchdown. “I was like, ‘My leg is messed up.’ Then I thought, ‘If I stay on the ground, is there going to be a (clock) run-off? I have to get off.’ I get off. I jump on a random table.
“(Head trainer) Rob (Hunt) came over and was like, ‘Are you OK?’ Then the crowd went wild. Rob looked at me and said, ‘We scored a touchdown, so you’ll be fine.’”
“Fine,” it turns out, was a matter of perspective. Besides tearing his right MCL, Smythe also aggravated the shoulder he had previously sprained in the season-opening victory over Texas the week before. He had joint surgery to repair both the knee and shoulder, three hours followed by months of grueling rehab.
Unfortunately for the Irish, Smythe wasn’t alone.
“A lot of these injuries happened in the first two or three weeks – me, Tarean (Folston), Malik (Zaire), Shaun (Crawford), Jarron (Jones). We were kind of all in the same boat,” Smythe said. “Drue (Tranquill) a couple weeks later. We were able to bond together and push each other a little bit in rehab.
“We were all on similar paths. ACLs and MCLs are different, but we were all able to push each other once we got back in the weight room, back into rehabbing.”
The loneliest moments, of course, came on those isolated Saturdays in the fall, when the 6-foot-5, 245-pound tight end was reduced to the role of a helpless bystander. And even then, he had company.
“It’s extremely surreal,” he said. “The thing that I think back to was one of the first weeks after my injury and Malik’s, we were up in the press box. It was for a home game, actually, the UMass game.
“We were up there for the first time, watching a game from that perspective, and we literally said seven or eight times throughout the game, ‘This is so weird.’”
Before he could lift, before he could rehab, before he could run, Smythe needed to sleep. And that, in itself, was a challenge.
“For a month and a half, I was struggling,” Smythe said. “I was in bed. I couldn’t really sleep right, because of my shoulder. I couldn’t move my leg. I looked like a trauma patient, really, for a month and a half. But I told people that it looked a lot worse than it actually was.”
When Smythe’s body healed, though, his outlook shifted. After the first month and a half, he had complete range of motion in his leg. That meant that he could lift again — that it was only a matter of time.
“Rob (Hunt) came up to me a couple months ago and said, ‘You know, you’ve been progressing pretty well. There’s a chance you could get back out there. Is that something you would be interested in?’” Smythe said. “I’m not going to say no to that.”
And so, here he is. After missing the final 10 games of Notre Dame’s 10-2 regular season, a few falls after redshirting his freshman year in 2013, Smythe is fully healthy and expected to start in the Fiesta Bowl game against Ohio State on New Year’s Day.
Whether it’s in the red zone or the running game, the junior’s contributions will be welcome.
“Durham Smythe is a guy that does a lot of jobs well for us,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “He’s shown himself to come back in good physical conditioning. The knee and shoulder are really solid.”
Maybe, this time around, Smythe will be the one hauling in the game-winning catch. But he’ll settle for a view lower than the press box.
“It does show you,” he said. “I like to say that I try to appreciate (football) at all times. But when you get that injury, it’s like, ‘Wow.’ You’re not doing anything for two months. You really want to be out there.
“You start to really appreciate what it brings to the table, how it makes you feel.”
Who: No. 8 Notre Dame (10-2) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (11-1)
Kickoff: Friday, 1 p.m. EST
Where: University of Phoenix Stadium; Glendale, Ariz.
Radio: WSBT-AM (960), WSBT-FM (96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)
Line: Ohio State by 6 1/2