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Ten players, ten reasons: Prince Shembo

Dec 30, 2012, 1:48 PM EDT

Prince Shembo AP

The fourth in a series on ten below-the-radar players whose performances helped key the Irish’s run to the national title game. Others include Zeke Motta, Danny Spond and TJ Jones.

The logic used to put Prince Shembo at the Dog linebacker position in 2011 made plenty of sense. Darius Fleming was returning. Get your best players on the field. Find a way for Shembo to just make plays. And while Shembo did his best to make the transition to the wide side of the field work, asking a guy whose Twitter handle includes the name Rambo to back pedal just as often as he charges after a quarterback — well let’s just all agree it wasn’t the best fit.

Shembo’s sophomore season wasn’t a disappointment, but it did leave some statistics to be desired. With just 31 tackles and two sacks, it was clear that the 6-foot-2, 255-pound linebacker had spent more time thinking than simply playing, something he did to impressive effect as a true freshman, where Shembo might not have had a clue what he was doing, but he managed 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble with a limited agenda: Go get the quarterback.

That wasn’t Shembo’s job in 2011 and his playing time showed it. Against Air Force, Jamoris Slaughter saw the majority of snaps down in the box, with Shembo logging just 14 that afternoon. Less and less the game plan included Shembo when the offense dictated it, and Shembo saw diminished time against Maryland and Boston College as well.

Heading into the season, many wondered where the Irish were going to get their pass rush, especially with the loss of Aaron Lynch. It turns out part of the answer was to simply unleash Shembo, and return him to his natural position.

Shembo’s junior season was the perfect confluence of events. Necessity, opportunity and preparation all merged. Starting for the first time at the Cat linebacker, Shembo’s stat line exploded, his 48 tackles were sixth on the team. His 10.5 tackles-for-loss second only to Stephon Tuitt. And his 7.5 sacks off the edge — and countless more quarterback hurries — a tremendous complement to Tuitt’s presence. Rambo returned to his job and the entire defense benefited. A year after playing just 57 percent of the defenses snaps, Shembo was up to 83 percent, the most of any linebacker not named Te’o. And with more playing time, Shembo brought the production desperately needed.

Perhaps the key to Shembo’s fit in the Irish defense is his versatility. With a stout presence and ability to battle blockers much larger than him, Shembo gives Bob Diaco the ultimate Swiss Army knife, with Shembo at home with his hand on the ground as a defensive end or playing linebacker. One of the great values Fleming brought to the Irish defense was that same versatility. Perhaps it’s telling that Shembo’s so good rushing the passer that the Irish ran more four down fronts this season with a first-time starter in Shembo than they did with Fleming.

Identified and recruited by Charlie Weis’ coaching staff, Shembo didn’t fit the mold of outside linebacker types Brian Kelly usually recruits. Yet Shembo’s been a key cog to this Irish defense, and he plays much larger and tougher than his size dictates.

Just as important is the swagger Shembo brings to the unit. Often seen carrying around the defense’s sledgehammer, Shembo coined one of the defense’s best rallying cries — and probably its second best too, when he accused Denard Robinson of stealing his bike seat at the pep rally before the Michigan game.

Shembo plays like Diaco wants the entire defense to play: Fearless. Take his comments before facing off with Oklahoma’s Belldozer, the gigantic quarterback Blake Bell.

“He’s a big guy. 6-6, 260. Well I squat 600. So we’re just going to go and meet him in the hole.”

“We’ve got monsters on our team,” Shembo continued. “Troy’s a monster, Eifert’s a monster. The more practice with monsters, the better. If I’ve got to fight a dragon every day — without getting killed hopefully — I’ll know how to beat the dragon eventually.”

Shembo has spent the last month preparing to face off with another set of monsters, the Alabama offensive line. And while many expect Alabama to be doing the pushing around, Shembo doesn’t seem too worried.

“I mean, we’re physical too,” Shembo said yesterday. “Two physical teams are about to go up against each other. Then it’s just going to lead to Xs and Os after that. I don’t think any of us are going to get pushed around. It’s going to be even-steven.”

  1. mikemcmack - Dec 30, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    “Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothin’ to f**% with!”
    Nor is Prince Shembo, who will have been promoted to King Shembo(can I copyright that?) by this time next year, after his turn for the pub has rolled around.
    Love that eff-you, balls-out quote of his about the”BellDozer”—who, the last time I saw him, was wimped into throwing a pass. (Just glad that David [“Whistle, Baby”] Shaw didn’t learn from it.)
    Shembo never did get to greet Blake Bell in the hole, but I’m hoping he has a rendezvous or three with Eddie Lacy.
    And I like his chances.
    GO IRISH!!!

  2. shaunodame - Dec 30, 2012 at 10:49 PM

    Prince Shembo AKA Beast Mode. What a year from him, he basically LIVED in opponents backfields.

    What’s scary is thinking that he has another year of eligibility left. Note to 2013 QB opponents: hide yo kids, hide yo wife.

  3. chicagoirish23 - Dec 31, 2012 at 4:06 PM

    Keith –

    Saw a report on ESPN today by John Clayton concerning all the NFL firings. Interesting part was when he mentioned BK as a potential candidate for an NFL job. I wasn’t surprised to hear his name but I was surprised to hear Clayton say that it’s BK showing interest for the NFL. Clayton specifically cited inside sources to say this. I can’t find this information anywhere else on the Internet but its definitely alarming if it’s true it’ll be a major distraction and a disaster for this program that’s finally turned a corner.

    So, since you are our inside source, have you heard anything similar to this?

    Go Irish!

  4. danirish - Dec 31, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    I teach at a local high school in Charlotte and had the pleasure of seeing Shembo destroy my school constantly. He mostly played DE and he was a force – now he is the Force along with the BEASTS!

    Loving this series.


  5. grattanstanford - Dec 31, 2012 at 10:19 PM

    Prince Shembo is a straight up force on the football field. He is a scary assignment for any OL and plays every snap like its his last. The move from dog to cat was a perfect idea and he is an ideal ND student (as opposed to popular opinion. He is fearless in the classroom, diligent in the classroom, and relatable in dorm life. Also I heard if he left now he would be a forty to fifty overall pick in the draft

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