SOUTH BEND – Jaylon Smith wasted no time making sure his first game at Notre Dame would be memorable.
The former Bishop Luers star started at linebacker for the Irish in a 28-6 win over Temple on Saturday.
Smith combined with defensive end Stephon Tuitt to bring down quarterback Connor Reilly just more than 1 1/2 minutes into the game. Smith was the first freshman to start at outside linebacker in the opening game since Kory Minor did it in 1995.
“He did some pretty good things,” coach Brian Kelly said of Smith.
“He played like a freshman. He was a little out of place at times. In some instances, he obviously has great athletic ability. He closes very well. It was probably what we expected from him.”
Smith didn’t record another tackle after helping take down Reilly after a 4-yard run, but the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder made an impression on Temple coach Matt Rhule.
“Jaylon (Smith) for them was the real deal now,” Rhule said. “Some of the things we wanted to do, he took out of the game right away. So he’s the real deal.”
Smith has been a big deal since he signed with the Irish on Feb. 6, and he beat out junior Ben Councell for the starting spot that was up for grabs when last year’s starter Danny Spond had to stop playing because of severe migraine headaches.
Smith won four Class 2A titles with Luers and was rated the No. 3 player in the country by Rivals.com and Scout.com as a senior.
He was named Indiana’s Mr. Football, 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 after recording 75 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and eight sacks last year.
“He played really well,” safety Matthias Farley said of Smith.
“He played fast. He played physical. It’s a whirlwind to be out there when the lights are out there. It is easy to do it in practice, and I think he handled it very well.”
Not everything was great for Smith, but a few mistakes will be forgiven as long as he continues to progress.
“He played with some great energy,” Kelly said. “He’s got some great speed and athleticism. But he’s got a lot of work to do as well in terms of being in the right place, forcing the football, being in the curl.
“But I’m sure glad he’s on our football team.”