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irish insider

Durham Smythe becomes invaluable member of Irish offense

| Friday, November 17, 2017

During his five years in the program, Irish graduate student Durham Smythe has strived to become what he calls a “complete tight end” — a player that can contribute in every facet of the game.

Monica Villagomez Mendez

Irish graduate student tight end Durham Smythe runs upfield after making a catch during Notre Dame’s 49-14 win over USC on Oct. 21.

From making an impact in the pass game to learning the importance of doing his part as a blocker, Smythe has grown into a player who can do it all within an offense. Aside from his contributions on the field, his role as a leader and mentor has been what truly molded him into a complete player.

Smythe grew up in a big football family that closely followed football in Texas. He grew up in Belton, Texas, just 30 minutes from the campus of Baylor University where his father played college football. Each Friday his family attended the Belton High game and each Saturday they attended the Baylor game.

Despite his family ties in Texas, Smythe was an Irish fan growing up, always trying to get to a TV to check the score of the Notre Dame game. He originally committed to play at the University of Texas but changed his plans after visiting Notre Dame.

“I like to tell people that there was two feet of snow on the ground,” Smythe said. “It was a month before signing day in the middle of January, I had never really been around snow before in my entire life; it was 10 degrees, but I still fell in love and committed on the spot.”

In high school Smythe played receiver and was not responsible for much blocking. Coming to Notre Dame, he elected to take a redshirt freshman year in order to learn the role of tight ends on the Irish team.

“I had to focus on getting bigger in the weight room and really developing the blocking skills,” Smythe said. “[My redshirt year] really gave me an opportunity to establish time management just within college in general. I was at practice every day, but I didn’t have to focus on preparing to contribute in a game on Saturday. I established a schedule that would work.

“I also developed physically and learned from the older guys. [Former Irish players] Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack were the two tight ends playing ahead of me, and they are both still playing in the NFL. I got a chance to watch and learn from them and develop myself.”

Smythe played in all 13 games of his sophomore season, but he suffered critical injuries to his shoulder and right MCL during the second game of his junior year against Virginia.

The injury required a double surgery and extensive rehab, putting Smythe out just as he has begun to be a key contributor and start games for the Irish squad.

Smythe said that, while his injury kept him off the field, it gave him an opportunity to develop more as a team leader.

“That’s something that obviously no one wants in their career,” Smythe said. “At the end of the day, I think that just gave me another opportunity to step back in the middle of my career and develop other skills such as leadership. We had a bunch of younger tight ends under me that needed a bit of guidance throughout that season. I got to step back and watch the game from an outsider level, developing a really complete mental understanding of the game.”

After missing 10 consecutive games in the middle of the season, the Notre Dame athletic trainers gave Smythe the go-ahead to play in the Fiesta Bowl in January 2016.

“It was awesome,” Smythe said. “When it happened, I thought I was for sure going to be out for the rest of the season. Being able to go play in the Fiesta Bowl against an extremely talented team in Ohio State after missing 10 consecutive games was something I will never forget. Overall, I was just really excited to get back on the field.”

After learning from players like Niklas and Koyack ahead of him, Smythe has seized the opportunity to share his experiences with the younger tight ends coming through the program.

“I take it as my responsibility to pass some of the things down that were passed down to me from the older guys,” he said. “Staying in the moment is something that I was taught as a young player here, and I think that has been something that is very useful to pass down to the other guys. I just try to help them along within the offense, in reading defenses and with a bunch of tactical things. I try to be there for them when they have questions.”

Overall, Smythe said the tight ends have meshed well as a group. He credits the dynamic between them for the success they find on the field.

“The camaraderie in the tight end room is extremely close,” he said. “I’ve been with [senior tight end] Nic [Weishar] and [junior tight end] Alize [Mack] for a few years now, and I love both those guys. These two freshmen came in, and they are extremely talented and ready to play right away. I think this unit this year is definitely the deepest unit I’ve ever been a part of in terms of talent. We all want to see each other succeed to the highest degree.”

Smythe said his time at Notre Dame has not only taught him to be a complete tight end, but has shaped him into the kind of person he wants to be.

“After being around this program and the people for five years, whether it be players, support staff or coaches, something I’ve really taken away is being able to treat people in the right way on the field, off the field or in everyday life,” Smythe said. “I took a step back in this past offseason and really thought about what has happened so far. It’s been a night and day difference in how on a regular basis I treat people, and that is a testament to all the people that surround me in this program.”

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