Oct 12, 2010, 4:57 PM EDT
It wasn’t too long ago that Irish fans wondered if Harrison Smith had what it took to be a starter on a Notre Dame defense that was anything but impressive. Smith has long dazzled Irish fans and coaches with his raw athletic ability, but even though the previous regime did just about everything you could imagine to make sure Smith was one of the 11 players lined up on the defensive side of the ball, his play was completely enigmatic.
Smith’s 2009 season had people wondering if the player who possessed ideal safety size and speed had the mental and physical toolbox needed to play in the secondary. Smith was beat often is space last year, and showed up on the wrong team’s highlight reel seemingly every week. A year after he was asked to learn how to be an extremely undersized outside linebacker, Smith was forced back down in the box after it was clear he had completely lost his confidence as a safety.
Upon arrival, Brian Kelly made it clear that Smith would only see the football field if it was at safety, a declaration that had many thinking Smith’s days of starting were over. Yet throughout the offseason and spring practice, Kelly continued to praise Smith’s work ethic and mental aptitude at the safety position, something few Irish fans were prepared to hear.
In his press conference today, Kelly singled out Smith as the leader of the secondary, a mighty leap from the player that played inconsistent football last season.
Here’s a look at some of the plays Smith made against Pitt, where he lead the team in tackles and also added an interception (almost two).