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Luers’ star Smith impresses Irish

In 3-man contest for playing time at outside linebacker


– Jaylon Smith has impressed his Notre Dame teammates through fall camp.

And that’s good news for the Irish, who will likely need to use the former Bishop Luers standout more this season after last year’s starting outside linebacker Danny Spond had to stop playing because of medical reasons.

“Jaylon Smith has been amazing,” safety Elijah Shumate said Monday. “He’s young. He’s come in and worked hard. He’s been playing hard. I feel like just from behind, and just seeing him, he’s a great athlete. And he’s going to be a great football player.”

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Smith will be competing with 6-4, 254-pound junior Ben Councell and 6-3, 258-pound sophomore Romeo Okwara for playing time. Councell and Smith have worked the first-team defense at practice with Spond out.

Councell played in 12 games last season, recording 10 tackles. He received more practice reps last fall when Spond couldn’t practice after a severe migraine kept him out of practice and the first two weeks of last season.

“Having what happened to Danny is a very serious matter,” Councell said. “I’m not really sure on all of the specifics. But we back his decision 100 percent. If that is what is right for Danny, it’s going to help him in the long run.”

Councell and Smith will need to help the Irish at a complex position.

The outside linebacker spot they will fill is referred to as the “Dog” or “drop” linebacker, which requires the player to be able to defend the run on the perimeter but also cover slot receivers and tight ends.

Coach Brian Kelly said the demands at the position will not be so great that Smith can’t play this year.

“When it comes to coaching, if we make it that complicated that we can’t get Jaylon Smith on the field then we’re not very good coaches,” Kelly said Saturday. “It’s that simple.”

Councell and Smith will be helped by having Spond around tolend his insight and advice on how to play the demanding position.

“A lot of what I’ve learned over the last two years was being able to watch (Spond) on the field,” Councell said. “I’m very excited to have him as another coach to help me and Jaylon at that spot.”

Smith appears to be physically ready to help the Irish. The 2012 Mr. Football Award winner showed strong coverage skills against slot receiver C.J. Prosise and running back George Atkinson III during Saturday’s practice.

Smith had 75 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and eight sacks as he helped lead Luers to a fourth straight Class 2A state title last season. Along with being named Mr. Football, he was named the Euell Wilson Award winner, given to the SAC’s top football player; the High School Butkus Award winner, given to the nation’s top linebacker; a captain at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and to the Parade All-American team.

“He’s definitely a great player,” tight end Ben Koyack said of being covered by Smith. “He’s a very physical guy. He’s a very smart and intelligent player. He’s been able to go out there and give us some great looks.”

Smith has also impressed his teammates with his desire and ability to learn.

“He just wants to learn every day,” linebacker Prince Shembo said. “Every time I talk to him, he says, ‘I want to learn?’ He’s the same person as myself. He just listens, wants to learn, always curious. Curious of how I could do this better? He listens. He’s very humble. We help him out.”