NFL player Jaylon Smith returns to Notre Dame to support his alma mater
NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- Former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was one of the most dominant players the Irish ever had on defense. If you Google his name, one of the first things you'll see is the horrifying injury he suffered in his final Notre Dame game. It has been a long road since that life changing moment. Now, more than two years later, Smith is making the most of his opportunities.
"My last collegiate game before I entered the NFL draft, I was the number one linebacker coming out of college, won the Butkus award, I was an All-American and all of the good accolades and things of that nature. I was projected to be a top three pick," Smith said.
The star linebacker who had the dream career, from winning four football state championships at Fort Wayne Bishop Luers as a two-way star and being named Mr. Football for the state of Indiana, to running the lead leg on the state championship winning 4-by-100 meter dash team, to being named the Butkus Award recipient as the best college linebacker in the nation.
Smith was about to play in his final game for the Irish to put an exclamation point on his incredible collegiate career.
"There was so much intensity, so much hype leading up to the game. I believe there was 9 projected first round picks playing in that game and no hesitation, I wanted to go and compete with my team for one last time. The second drive of the game I got hurt," Smith said.
In an instant, Smith went from a first round pick in the NFL draft to a question mark as to whether he would even be drafted at all.
"I hurt my ACL, LCL and it was really severe because I had nerve damage, which caused a drop foot, meaning I couldn't lift my foot up to shin if you will. That lasted for about a year and a half before I started to regain movement," Smith said.
There was only one option for him and it started in the operating room.
"Number one thing was having the surgery, rehabbing the knee, making sure the knee was okay. That was step one, phase one. Nerves they heal on their own. They're supposed to, scientifically supposed to, grow back one millimeter a day, but at the end of the day, it's God's time," Smith said.
While trusting in his faith, Smith was relentless in his determination and rehabilitation.
Just four months later it was draft day. Smith prayed he would hear his name called.
His prayers were answered when he heard the Dallas Cowboys selected Smith.
"A dream come true. An ultimate dream come true. My surgery was done by the Cowboys physician, Dr. Daniel Cooper. So what a coincidence that I get drafted by the Cowboys. Still had a lot to go, a lot to prove. People thought I would never play the game of football again, but I just stayed focused and I walked in the space of my clear eye view and that's what's got me where I am today," Smith said.
In 2017 against the odds, Smith was the starting middle linebacker for the Cowboys.
In his first game, against the Giants in the season opener, Smith had 7 total tackles and a forced fumble.
What was it like suiting up and taking the field for the first time?
"Joy. Tears. Just understanding that I did it. You know, a dream come true to play in the National Football League. Through all of the odds, I kept my clear eye view and I'm a living creature of it. It's something that I wholeheartedly believe in and just to have the opportunity to play the game I love again, it's something I'll never take for granted," Smith said.
Smith finished his rookie season with 81 tackles and one sack- one of the highest single-season totals by a first-year player in franchise history.
Now as he gets set to begin his second season in the NFL, his career is blowing up off the field as well
He has launched the Jaylon Smith Minority Entrepreneurship Institute to provide funding, planning and mentorship for minorities.
Through a partnership with Coliseum Sports, Smith has launched his own clothing and accessory line called Clear Eye View.
"You know it's for everyone who wants to live and walk with a clear eye view. Focused vision, determined belief and earned dreams. You don't have to play sports to have a clear eye view," Smith said.
Through his partnership with Coliseum, Smith returned to South Bend for the unveiling of "the shirt."
Smith also returned for the Michigan game. He shows his support for his alma-mater every chance he gets.
"I'm thankful to have Notre Dame's support the entire way," Smith said.
Smith will return to the field Sunday as the Dallas Cowboys open the 2018 season on the road against the Carolina Panthers.
Smith's older brother, Rod Smith, is a running back for the Cowboys.