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Toryan Smith: Linebacker credits family for helping him succeed

Bill Brink | Friday, November 20, 2009

As Toryan Smith stood in the hallway of the athletics facility, talking about how important his family was to him, his phone rang. He took a look and chuckled.

“That’s my mom, calling right now,” he said.

The linebacker, a self-described homebody, said he talks to his family every day.

“That’s real important, to keep in touch with my family,” he said. “They keep your head straight.”

When Smith says the four years he’s spent here seemed to have taken only a year to complete, keeping one’s head on straight may be harder than it looks.

Smith was no stranger to the spotlight of Notre Dame. By playing his high school ball in Rome, Ga., he experienced the importance of southern high school football.

“You go to a game, you seen 10,000 people,” he said. “It’s real big, there are a lot of big rivalries, lots of big-time players, lots of big-time football.”

Smith’s father, Charles, played offensive line at Georgia. Smith said his dad wanted him to play the line, but Smith ended up at linebacker instead.

“It was a real smooth transition,” he said.

The academics and the prestige of Notre Dame attracted Smith to South Bend, but once he got here, he said he realized how tough the college game was.

“It just went real fast,” he said.

During his freshman year, Smith played in nine games and had nine tackles. He said keeping himself in shape and maintaining his strength and speed were important to adjusting to college.

“The main thing was just to make sure to get yourself in good condition, good shape,” he said. “The game’s a lot faster, the players are a lot stronger. You got to come in and work a little extra hard.”

His sophomore season, he played in 11 games and started two of them. He made 14 tackles and also played on special teams. In 2008, his junior season, he played in 10 games and started two. Against Navy, when starting linebacker Brian Smith was sidelined because of an injury, he stepped up. Smith recorded 10 tackles and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

“Any time you’re on the field you have to try to make the best opportunity of it,” he said. “I was ready to go.”

This season, he’s played in all 10 games and started two. Freshman Manti Te’o has taken over Smith’s linebacker role as the season progressed; Smith said the season has taken some unexpected turns.

“It’s a lot of ups and downs. A lot of change, a lot of different things going on,” he said. “It’s been a ride.”

That hasn’t stopped him from working.

“I’m going to try to keep playing football as long as I have the opportunity,” he said.

Thanks to his coursework, he’ll have the opportunity to try. He will graduate this December with a double major in sociology and computer applications and will train for the NFL Combine.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Whatever happens, Smith said the community he experienced at Notre Dame will stick with him.

“It’s an instant connection,” he said. “You really feel it.”

Even more than that, he said, the bonds he’s formed with his teammates supersede everything else from his time here.

“I think really just meeting these guys that I’ve played with,” he said when asked what he’d remember. “You can talk about all these big games, big stadiums, parties, whatever you want to talk about, but when it really comes down to it … [it’s] the friends that I’ll have the rest of my life.”