Pope: ND freshman Jaylon Smith earns starting LB spot
By LaMond Pope email@example.com or 713-2691 August 27, 2013 8:32PM
Bishop Luers' Jaylon Smith celebrates after defeating Andrean 35-21 at Andrean High School on Friday November 16, 2012. | Jim Karczewski~for Sun-Times Media
The Big Number
Brian Kelly seeks his 200th career victory Saturday. In 22 seasons, Kelly has a career record of 199-68-2.
Zack and Nick Martin are slated to become the first set of brothers at Notre Dame to start on the offensive line together since 1978 (Dave and Tim Huffman).
Updated: September 29, 2013 6:53AM
SOUTH BEND — Jaylon Smith’s high school resume is impressive.
The Bishop Luers grad won the 2012 Butkus Award, given to the top high school linebacker in the country. He was a Parade first-team high school All-American and a five-star recruit, according to Rivals.com.
But Smith just didn’t step onto Notre Dame’s campus and get anointed a starter before camp began. He had to earn it.
Tuesday, the Irish released their depth chart for the season opener against Temple. And Smith was listed as a starter at outside linebacker.
Running back George Atkinson III, right tackle Ronnie Stanley and safety Austin Collinsworth also came out on top in their respective position battles.
Smith edged out Ben Councell. Danny Spond, last year’s starter, announced a couple of weeks ago that he was no longer playing football. He later disclosed he has suffered from hemiplegic migraines during the past year.
“I don’t know that there were many times where we had to remind (Smith) that, ‘hey, you have to work for it.’ But he had to work for it,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said during his weekly news conference. “It was Danny Spond, it was Councell and it was Jaylon Smith; it didn’t start the other way around. He was No. 3 on the depth chart when they ran out there, even though there wasn’t a depth chart posted. He didn’t go with the first group. Danny Spond was with the first, Councell was second, and Jaylon was third, and he went out and he did his job.”
The move does not come as a shock. Smith worked with the first unit during the most recent time reporters viewed practice on Thursday.
“The one thing that Jaylon has done as well as a lot of freshmen that I’ve been around, he doesn’t make the same mistake twice,” Kelly said. “He’s a guy that comes back the next day, and he can eradicate the same mistake twice, and that’s a hallmark of a guy that’s going to play a lot of football for us.”
There weren’t many surprises on the first depth chart of the season.
Atkinson’s experience gave him the advantage at running back.
“He’s continued to get better,” Kelly said. “He’s stronger, had a great offseason, he’s been a great teammate. So he hasn’t done anything to take that away from him. But he’s going to have to perform. If George fumbles the football, if George misses assignments, if George doesn’t run the right hole, George will be standing next to me on the sideline.
“So it’s a very competitive situation, but George has done everything we’ve asked him to do in the offseason and had a good camp, and we expect him to play well on Saturday.”
The Irish will be without one running back, Will Mahone, for the opener. He is recovering from a high ankle sprain.
Up front, Stanley is listed as the starter at right tackle. But Steve Elmer is right there with him.
“If you would ask us today, Ronnie would start there. But that’s a very fluid situation,” Kelly said. “We have great confidence that Steve Elmer could go in there and start for us if we need to as well.”
Collinsworth is listed ahead of Elijah Shumate at safety.
“Both will play. It’s a 1A/1B situation. Depending on where we are in the game, down-and-distance, a lot of those factors will be involved,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to look at both of those guys playing an equal amount of football.”
Notes: Safety Chris Badger will transfer to BYU, IrishIllustrated.com reported Tuesday. Badger, who is from Provo, Utah, did not play last year as a freshman for the Irish. He enrolled at Notre Dame in January of 2010 and left the school after the 2010 spring semester to participate in a mission trip in Ecuador for LDS Church. He returned to Notre Dame in June of 2012. ... Family played a factor in Elijah Hood’s decision to de-commit to Notre Dame last week. Tuesday, the five-star recruit from Charlotte, N.C. announced he was staying close to home by making an oral commitment to North Carolina. Hood de-committed from Notre Dame Aug. 20.