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Brian Smith: Emotions, two TDs define linebacker’s four years

Eric Prister | Thursday, November 11, 2010

In his player bio on UND.com, the first word used to describe senior linebacker Brian Smith is emotional, and it is that emotion that has enabled Smith to become the active leader in games played for Notre Dame.

“When I’m out on the field, I embrace the emotion, the energy from the crowd,” Smith said. “I’m very passionate about what I do, and so to be described as emotional lets people know, ‘Yeah, that’s real me on the field.’ You just have to have the emotional advantage, that even if you aren’t, that you play like you are the baddest on the field and nobody can stop you. Having the kind of attitude makes you a better player and so that gives you that edge against the person you’re going against.”

Smith has played in all but three games throughout his Irish career, and has not missed a game since his sophomore season. He leads all active players in tackles with 180 and has added two touchdowns to his résumé throughout his career.

“I can’t even explain [the feeling of scoring a defensive touchdown],” Smith said. “My first touchdown, I didn’t know what was happening. I told everyone that I felt like I was in someone else’s body watching it through their eyes, because it was such an adrenaline high, being out there. It was just crazy, being able to get into the endzone and get points for the team, especially against teams like Michigan and Boston College, doing anything I can to help my team win. It’s just a special feeling.”

That first score came in Smith’s freshman year against Boston College. He intercepted Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan — now with the Atlanta Falcons — and returned it 25 yards for the score.

“One thing I’ll always remember is seeing [former Irish coach Charlie Weis] put his arm around me, because me and coach Weis, we had conversations, but you never really saw real emotion from him,” Smith said. “But when I scored that first touchdown, you saw that real emotion from him on the sidelines, and that’s the one thing that stuck out to me.”

The beginning of Smith’s career at Notre Dame was a tenuous one, as he had already committed to Iowa when he was offered a scholarship from the Irish, just two weeks before signing day. For Smith, that was when the real decision process began.

“The decision process was kind of a rocky one because I was committed to go to Iowa for about eight months during my senior year of high school, and then all of a sudden, two weeks before signing day, Notre Dame offers me,” he said. “It kind of put me at a crossroads because it was like, ‘If Notre Dame didn’t want me then, why do they want me now?’ And I kind of had a mind block about it. But then the best advice I got was, ‘What can Notre Dame do for you? That was a dream school which can do something for you which Iowa can’t.’ Hearing that from my father, I had to make the choice to come here.”

Smith’s career did not get any easier when he arrived on campus. The Irish went 3-9 during his freshman season, and have not recorded a winning season in his four years as a member of the football program, but Smith said he has not been disheartened by the ups and downs that Notre Dame has endured.

“Coming to Notre Dame is expecting to be a part of excellence,” he said. “Even though our football seasons haven’t been what everyone has wanted them to be, I still feel like I’ve been a part of excellence, being around these guys and these coaches. Living a first-class championship lifestyle will bring championship results. In years to come, everyone in the world will be able to see that.”

Keeping that championship attitude was not easy for Smith. He was moved from outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense to inside linebacker in a 4-3 defense during his sophomore and junior years. Smith said that changing positions was difficult, but in the end gave him a greater understanding of the game.

“The process changing from outside to inside was very hard, because as a middle linebacker, you have to know what everyone is doing on the field,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to [former Irish defensive coordinator John Tenuta], because he taught me a lot about football and that, with my coaches now, [defensive coordinator Bob] Diaco and [Irish coach Brian] Kelly, I feel like there’s nothing on the football field that I don’t know. So now, transitioning, I feel like I can play anywhere on the field now that I’ve played middle linebacker, because that’s the captain of the defense, making calls, adjustments and checks. So I feel like I can play anywhere. Wherever they stick me, I feel like I’m going to do a very good job at it.”

Position on the field is not the only change Smith has experienced during his time at Notre Dame. He has played under two head coaches and three defensive coordinators, which can make finding a comfort zone difficult. Smith said he has used the coaching changes as a learning experience, as well.

“It makes you not only a better player but also a better man, because in the real world you’re going to face changes, day in and day out,” he said. “Having a new staff was different, but you have to adjust. When I’m in the working world, my boss is going to change and I have to adjust to what he’s going to do. My position changed — one day your position in the office is going to change, and you have to make adjustments. It keeps you on your toes and keeps your edge razor-sharp, because you have to always keep a razor-sharp edge to be competitive, not only on the football field, but in life.”

Smith said many people have made an impact on his life since being at Notre Dame, but coaches and former players in particular have taught him the lessons he needs both on the field and off.

“There have just been a lot of guys who have played the game here and are still around,” he said. “Guys like [former Irish players] Reggie Brooks and Chris Zorich, coach Tenuta and [former defensive coordinator] Corwin Brown, that have played the system and have taught me since I was a young pup in the system — those are guys who I always look to and try to keep in touch with because they are the roots of the man I want to become in the real world.”

Despite a career full of changes, successes and failures on the field, Smith said he still believes that he made the right choice in coming to Notre Dame.

“[Our class] has seen it all,” he said. “Living a first-class, championship lifestyle is always number one for me, and I feel like, even through all these wins and losses, the loss column especially, that I’ve still been a part of excellence. Because we’re Notre Dame, even though we haven’t done as well, we’re still in the national spotlight. Because we are Notre Dame, we are known for our excellence, and so I feel like being a part of this establishment has been the biggest blessing for me.”