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Will Jaylon Smith be Notre Dame’s next Manti Te’o?

Linebacker JaylSmith wears Notre Dame hsweatshirt after signing letter intent with Notre Dame Bishop Luers High School Wednesday Feb. 6

Linebacker Jaylon Smith wears a Notre Dame hat and sweatshirt after signing a letter of intent with Notre Dame, at Bishop Luers High School on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, in Fort Wayne, Ind. (AP Photo/The Journal-Gazette, Swikar Patel) NEWS-SENTINEL OUT MAGS OUT NO SALES

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Updated: March 10, 2013 6:33AM

Manti Te’o was a tattooed stranger from Hawaii when he arrived in 2009 in South Bend, Ind. But Jaylon Smith, the heir to Te’o’s legacy as the next great Notre Dame linebacker, is a born-and-raised Hoosier who grew up less than a two-hour drive from Notre Dame Stadium in Fort Wayne.

Like Te’o, Smith won the Butkus Award as the top high school linebacker in the country. But to say Smith might be the next Te’o is like saying Jimmy Clausen might have been the next Tony Rice.

As great as Te’o became, he’s a paint-by-numbers linebacker — a tackling machine who uses his
instincts and intelligence to put himself in position to use his speed to make plays.

The 6-3, 220-pound Smith is much more dynamic, a versatile athlete in the mold of Brian Urlacher. He’s a coach-on-the-field linebacker who covered receivers like a safety and rushed the passer as a defensive end at Bishop Luers High School.

‘‘He fits the mold of what colleges — and even the pros — are looking for now,’’ Luers coach Steve Keefer said. ‘‘They want that outside guy who can rush and drop back into coverage and play the run. Jaylon fits that bill perfectly.’’

‘‘We had to make sure we located him on every play,’’ said Ty Hunt, the coach at Cardinal Ritter High School in Indianapolis, whose team faced Smith in the Class 2A state championship game in November. ‘‘We had some zone and man protection schemes that were
designed to account for him.’’

And how did that work out?
Luers took a 27-0 lead in the first half and won 40-28. Smith had four tackles and a sack.

‘‘Our quarterback got touched twice by him, one time pretty good,’’ Hunt said with a chuckle.

But Hunt said he was more
impressed with Smith as a running back. Smith rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns. When Ritter pulled within a touchdown late in the game, Smith put the hammer down with some clutch runs, finally settling the matter with a 16-yard touchdown.

‘‘They had a third-and-five, and they gave him the ball to the outside,’’ Hunt said. ‘‘I have a DB who’s going to an NAIA school. He’s 6-1 and came off a block and went to get him, and Jaylon hurdled him like he wasn’t there. It was pretty impressive.’’

Smith actually was penalized for hurdling on that play. But it’s that kind of aggressiveness that Notre Dame wants, no matter where Smith plays. Coaches tried to
recruit Smith as a running back — he rushed for 1,625 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior — but the kid rather would hit than be hit and insisted on playing defense. He should fit right in with coach Brian Kelly, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and strength coach
Paul Longo.

If Smith is as good as advertised, Notre Dame has a chance to be better without Te’o than it was with him, just as the Irish’s defense
improved after losing three players to the NFL last year.

Smith is pegged for the outside-linebacker spot held by returning starter Danny Spond, and Kelly
already has made it clear the position is Smith’s to win.

‘‘If Danny Spond is [among] the best 11, he’s playing,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘If Jaylon Smith is [among] the best 11, he’s playing.’’

Smith can’t wait for the chance.

‘‘I will be among the best 11,’’ he said at a signing ceremony Wednesday in the Luers cafeteria. ‘‘It’s all confidence and work ethic. It’s not just about being high-caliber in high school. You have to show up when you get to college.’’

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