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Shembo evolves into pass-rushing force

Andrew Gastelum | Thursday, October 25, 2012

Before Notre Dame home games, spectators usually see the intimidating sight of junior linebacker Prince Shembo running the sidelines with a key tool to the defense’s success.

“We brought a sledgehammer out and it symbolizes toughness, that’s what it is,” Shembo said. “It bends a lot of things, smashes stuff around like nails and stuff. That’s what we do. It might have been coach [Bob Diaco’s] idea.

“If it comes [to Oklahoma], I’m going to grab it.”

Since moving from the drop linebacker position in pass coverage to the strong-side rusher this season, Shembo has been a destructive force in the Irish front seven with two sacks and three tackles for a loss.

“I just worked hard in the offseason,” he said. “The coaches have improved my skill set so I’m trying to be a better overall player. Just studying more film is where it all starts. This is my third year, so obviously fundamentals and learning my opponent [is key]. Just being a student of the game and working on the little things. That’s where it really happens.”

Irish coach Brian Kelly said the reason the coaching staff moved Shembo to the drop linebacker was to make sure the defense had its top talent on the field as much as possible.

“It was definitely to get our best players on the field at the time,” Kelly said. “And, as you know, we were developing some younger players at the position. Prince obviously plays much better when we can shorten the field and he can get after the quarterback […] It’s just a more natural fit for him being at the cat position.”

The Charlotte, N.C., native leads the Irish with eight quarterback hurries, a crucial asset when going up against one of college football’s most prolific passers in Oklahoma senior quarterback Landry Jones.

In his last road game on Sept. 15, the Irish upset then-No. 10 Michigan State by the score of 20-3 behind Shembo’s career-high nine tackles – eight coming in the first half alone. Heading into the biggest road game of the season, the third-year linebacker said he is looking forward to the challenge.

“To be honest, I like road games. I like away games,” Shembo said. “I like when people come and they have stuff to say and everyone is against us. I like that feeling, so I think it will be a great atmosphere [Saturday].”

“It’s the same mentality. We are never going to change for any game. Whatever the challenge is, we are going to be the same and be ourselves. We are like a bunch of little kids. We like to have fun and run around.”

Shembo sets the edge for the nation’s second-ranked scoring defense that gives up only 9.43 points per game and has yet to give up a rushing touchdown this season, drawing the praise of coaches and teammates alike.

“Prince has done a tremendous job in not only just setting the edge but being a player and being a weapon out there,” senior linebacker Manti Te’o said. “If you look at him, Prince is not that big, compared to the guys he’s going up against, but when you watch the tape, that little 6-foot-1 dude is folding 6-foot-8, 300-pound linemen. So I’m happy to be on the same side as Prince Shembo.”

 

Contact Andrew Gastelum at agastel1@nd.edu