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    Smith Looks To Fill NFL Need at Safety

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    Smith, H INT return vs Pitt (KL)[2].JPG

    Former Notre Dame captain Harrison Smith participated in last month's NFL Combine, and is currently training for April's draft. He will be back on campus next Tuesday, April 3 for Notre Dame's Pro Day in Loftus Center.

    Smith was recently featured in an article by Kevin Fishbain for Pro Football Weekly. Check it out below:
    You need to watch only one highlight of Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski to realize how desperate some teams are for a versatile safety -- a player who can have the coverage skills to stick with the new breed of tight ends while also having the ability to be physical and stop the run in the box.

    Harrison Smith thinks he can be that player.

    The former Notre Dame safety is expected to be a late first- or early second-round pick in April's draft. He played some linebacker earlier in his college career and believes he can be the solution teams are looking for at the position.

    "Safety's definitely where I've felt the most comfortable because you can see everything so well, " Smith told PFW. "You can see the whole formation and where everyone is on offense and defense. You can come down and play the run and also be involved in the pass game.

    "It's an area where you can impact so much, even pre-snap, because you're the one making the calls and adjustments."

    Smith first moved to safety in Pee Wee football around the age of 10 in his hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. He had been playing corner and running back, but wanted to play linebacker like University of Tennessee LB Raynoch Thompson of the hometown Volunteers. "I thought he was the best," Smith said. Instead, Smith's coach told him to watch another Volunteer -- Deon Grant.

    "I started paying attention to (Grant). He made a lot of interceptions and plays. He was fun to watch," Smith said.

    Chuck Martin will be the Fighting Irish's offensive coordinator in 2012, but he was the defensive backs coach the past two seasons, focusing on Smith and the safeties in 2011. Smith had bounced from safety to linebacker and was coming off a rough sophomore season when Martin joined the staff.

    "He did not have a great sophomore year. I think that's an understatement," Martin said. "I don't think he was really ever comfortable at either spot, but he played a lot because he was a talented kid."

    When Martin first saw Smith on the practice field, though, he knew there was plenty to work with.

    "The first day in practice I saw the incredible things he could do on the field. His athleticism, length and toughness," Martin said. "Three practices into my first spring, I told him, 'If you're not a first-, second- or third-round draft choice, I know nothing about football.' His response was, 'did you watch any of my tape from last year, Coach?' I said, 'Yeah, I've watched your tape. I'm telling you that you have every tool and then some to be an incredible safety.' "

    As a junior in 2010, Smith made 91 tackles and hauled in seven interceptions. He had 90 tackles and a forced fumble in his senior season in '11.

    Playing for Notre Dame, Smith had the pleasure -- and challenge -- of going up against elite tight ends in practice. First, it was Kyle Rudolph, who just finished his rookie season with the Vikings. Last season, he had to try to man up against Tyler Eifert, who had 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns. Smith doesn't have to look far for experience in covering athletic tight ends, like the ones NFL teams are desperately trying to stop.

    "That's something that when I started playing safety, I never thought about it. With all the tight ends that are just freaks, monsters -- they're fast and athletic with great hands -- there's really a need for safeties that can match up better with those guys than putting a smaller defensive back on him," Smith said.

    Martin is confident that Smith has the skill set to run with and cover the Gronkowskis of the NFL.

    "He's not as big as those tight ends but he's big for a safety. He's a long-limbed kid," Martin said. Smith measured 6-1 7/8, 213 pounds with a wingspan of more than 76 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    "He has long arms, long range and incredible running ability," Martin continued. "He can run with any of them. Some guys are straight-line fast, but Harrison has body control. He's going to be athletic enough to twist and torque and try to make some plays from positions where you're behind a guy or on his back shoulder. He's used to covering 6-foot-5 guys that can run."

    When pressed on Smith's weaknesses, though, Martin didn't have a whole lot to offer, and neither did the scouts he has talked to.

    "The feedback I'm getting from guys I've known a while that are high up on NFL brass as far as drafting say, 'we don't know what the kid doesn't have,' " Martin said. "Scouts are telling me, 'what are we missing?' I said, 'you're not missing anything.' And (Smith) has done nothing but help himself with the Combine and interviews."

    In PFW's 2012 Draft Guide, Nolan Nawrocki wrote that Smith left his feet to make hits too often. Smith had an opportunity to respond to the report.

    "Obviously, a competitor is going to disagree on the negatives. Early in my career, I left my feet to make a lot of tackles. If you watch this most recent season, my tackling and technique are much improved," he said. "I don't leave my feet unless I'm going to make the tackle. I didn't miss too many tackles this past year."

    Smith then discussed another knock on him -- that he absorbs too much.

    "When I watch a football game and a running back goes up the middle and the safety brings him down, but the safety gets knocked back, they say he got run over," Smith explained. "To me, that doesn't make sense (laughs). At the end of the day, he tackled him. I don't think I get overpowered on the field. Sometimes I need to give more to get the ballcarriers down instead of going in there recklessly and throwing your body around.

    "There's always room to improve. I'm not going to say I'm flawless."

    Smith, 23, was a vocal leader at Notre Dame and has the qualities to "wow" an NFL team with his personality.

    "Once you meet him and interview him, you'll like him 10 times more," Martin said. "(Teams) will say 'holy cow, he's everything you said.' That's how God made him. Very gifted, very genuine."

    Smith's time at Notre Dame was atypical. The Fighting Irish went through two head coaches in his time in South Bend and not as many wins as the program was used to. Smith discussed what he learned from the experience.

    "No matter what, I control what I do. Maybe you don't win as many games as you want or things don't quite go your way, but at the end of the day you can only control yourself," he said. "I was ready to be a leader on the team, where guys looked to me for an example, a word of advice, anything really.

    "That whole process, the ups and downs, made me really appreciate the ups and fight through the downs, which at the end of the day makes you a better player and a more confident player."

    Smith already might speak like a veteran, or even a coach, and Martin told an anecdote where Smith shined in an opportunity to coach -- on the flag football field.

    Martin asked Smith to coach his son's 11-year-old flag football team last winter. "I knew he'd do a great job and the kids would love him," Martin said. But the team's opponent that week had previously beaten Martin's team 66-0.

    "I called him after the game and said, 'sorry, didn't mean to do that to you. I appreciate you helping me out when I'm on the road.' They lost 13-4," Martin said with a laugh. "I come home the next week, and they all wanted Harrison to coach them."

    - Kevin Fishbain
    The 2012 NFL Draft begins with the first round on Thursday, April 26. Rounds two and three will held on Friday, with rounds 4-7 on Saturday. The NFL Network's Charles Davis currently projects Smith as a late first-rounder, going 29th overall, to the Baltimore Ravens.

    Great Afternoon for the Irish

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    A pair of Fighting Irish teams fell behind early, but both mounted comebacks and picked up BIG EAST conference victories to stay undefeated at home this season.

    The women's lacrosse team struggled early in its matchup with Louisville, falling behind 5-1, before rattling off nine straight goals on its way to a 13-11 victory in the BIG EAST debut for first-year head coach Christine Halfpenny.

    The Fighting Irish improved to 7-0 in their return to Arlotta Stadium, after nearly a month away from home. Lindsay Powell led the offensive attack with four goals, while Maggie Tamasitis added a hat trick.

    Next door, the Notre Dame baseball team also fell into an early 2-0 hole, but plated three runs in the home half of the first inning. Joe Hudson knocked a two-run single, before Tommy Chase executed a squeeze play to provide what turned out to be the winning run in a Saturday afternoon pitchers' duel.

    Adam Norton pitched 8.1 strong innings, allowing just five hits and two runs, while striking out four. Dan Slania came on for the final two outs and after yielding back-to-back singles, centerfielder Charlie Markson made a leaping catch for the final out. Slania picked up his fifth save of the season, and the Irish improved to 14-7 with the win.

    Meanwhile, it was a big day for Notre Dame football too, as the team suited up in full pads for the first time this spring. The media got a chance to watch the last few minutes of practice, paying special attention to the four Irish quarterbacks battling for the starting job - Tommy Rees, Everett Golson, Andrew Hendrix, and Gunner Kiel.

    Check back later for UND.com video coverage from today's action at the LaBar Practice Fields.

    It's another busy afternoon tomorrow, when the men's lacrosse team takes on Rutgers and baseball goes for the sweep against Pittsburgh. Catch both games live at 1:00 pm ET, right here on UND.com.

    And don't forget, the Notre Dame women's hoops team plays St. Bonaventure for a spot in the Elite Eight at 2:30 pm ET on ESPN2.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

    Irish By The Numbers

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    Outside, it has felt like summer training camp for most of the week, but on the calendar, today was just the second practice of the spring season for the Notre Dame football team. The Fighting Irish will be back on the field tomorrow, four weeks away from the Blue-Gold game (April 21).

    With the start of spring ball comes a few updates to the roster, and with that, a nice opportunity to take a by-the-numbers look at the Irish. Here are some interesting tidbits from the 2012 Notre Dame Spring Football Prospectus:

    By Class

    Graduates (7): C Braxston Cave, C/G Mike Golic Jr., WR John Goodman, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, OT Dennis Mahoney, S Dan McCarthy, S Jamoris Slaughter

    Seniors (20): S Blake Breslau, ILB Carlo Calabrese, LS Jordan Cowart, TE Tyler Eifert, WR Nick Fitzpatrick, OLB Dan Fox, TE Jake Golic, OT Zack Martin, S Zeke Motta, RB Theo Riddick, S Chris Salvi, CB Will Salvi, NG Tyler Stockton, OL Matt Tansey, K Nick Tausch, ILB Manti Te'o, WR Robby Toma, P Ben Turk, OG Chris Watt, RB Cierre Wood

    Juniors (23): S Austin Collinsworth, C Bruce Heggie, QB Andrew Hendrix, CB Bennett Jackson, WR TJ Jones, WR Ryan Liebscher, G/T Christian Lombard, TE Arturo Martinez, WR Luke Massa, ILB Kendall Moore, OT Tate Nichols, NG Louis Nix III, RB Tyler Plantz, QB Tommy Rees, RB Cameron Roberson, CB Joe Romano, DE Kona Schwenke, OLB Prince Shembo, WR Daniel Smith, OLB Danny Spond, ILB Justin Utupo, TE Alex Welch, CB Lo Wood

    Sophomores (29): RB George Atkinson III, CB Josh Atkinson, K/P Kyle Brindza, CB Jalen Brown, RB Amir Carlisle, S Connor Cavalaris, OG Brad Carrico, OLB Ben Councell, WR DaVaris Daniels, S Matthias Farley, QB Everett Golson, ILB Jarrett Grace, C/G Conor Hanratty, S Eilar Hardy, C Matt Hegarty, DE Chase Hounshell, TE Ben Koyack, WR Eric Lee, OLB Connor Little, DE Aaron Lynch, G/T Nick Martin, RB Cam McDaniel, TE Troy Niklas, OT Jordan Prestwood, ILB Anthony Rabasa, ILB Joe Schmidt, NG Tony Springmann, DE Stephon Tuitt, OLB Ishaq Williams

    Freshmen (2): DE Sheldon Day, QB Gunner Kiel

    By State

    • California (9): Atkinson III, Atkinson, Breslau, Carlisle, Niklas, Roberson, Schmidt, Utupo, C. Wood
    • Colorado (2): Liebscher, Spond
    • Connecticut (3): Golic, Golic Jr., Hanratty
    • Florida (10): Cowart, Heggie, Lynch, Martinez, Motta, Nix III, Prestwood, Rabasa, Turk, L. Wood
    • Georgia (3): Jones, Slaugther, Tuitt
    • Hawaii (3): Schwenke, Te'o, Toma
    • Illinois (9): Cavalaris, Daniels, Lombard, Plantz, Rees, Romano, C. Salvi, W. Salvi, Watt
    • Indiana (10): Cave, Day, Eifert, Fitzpatrick, Goodman, Kiel, N. Martin, Z. Martin, Smith, Springmann
    • Iowa (1): Lee
    • Kentucky (2): Collinsworth, Nichols
    • Michigan (1): Brindza
    • Minnesota (1): Little
    • New Jersey (5): Calabrese, Jackson, Riddick, Stockton, Tansey
    • New Mexico (1): Hegarty
    • New York (1): Williams
    • North Carolina (4): Councell, Farley, Moore, Shembo
    • Ohio (9): Carrico, Fox, Grace, Hardy, Hendrix, Hounshell, Massa, McCarthy, Welch
    • Pennsylvania (1): Koyack
    • South Carolina (1): Golson
    • Texas (4): Brown, Lewis-Moore, McDaniel, Tausch

    Returning in 2012

    Offensive Lettermen (18): Atkinson III, Cave, Eifert, Golic Jr., Goodman, Hendrix, Jones, Koyack, Lombard, Mahoney, Z. Martin, Niklas (lettered at OLB), Rees, Riddick, Smith, Toma, Watt, C. Wood

    Defensive Lettermen (20): Calabrese, Collinsworth, Fox, Hounshell, Jackson, Lewis-Moore, Lynch, McCarthy, Moore, Motta, Nix III, C. Salvi, Schwenke, Shembo, Slaughter, Spond, Te'o, Tuitt, Williams, L. Wood

    Special Teams Lettermen (4): Brindza, Cowart, Tausch, Turk

    Remember to visit UND.com often for video updates on the Irish throughout the spring.
    Believe it or not, it's already that time of year. Spring football.

    Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly kicks off the spring season with a press conference on Tuesday at noon ET in the Isban Auditorium at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex. The Fighting Irish will have their first spring practice on Wednesday morning and UND.com will have plenty of coverage as the team gears up for the 2012 season and the Blue-Gold game on April 21.

    Follow the live blog coverage right here on Irish UNDerground and check back to UND.com later in the afternoon for video of coach's presser.

    Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

    Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

    Irish Connection - Episode 38

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    How are Coach Kelly's Fighting Irish spending the off-season before spring practice begins? Check out the latest episode of Irish Connection.

    Stay tuned into UND.com in the coming weeks for more football coverage. Spring practice begins March 21 and the Blue-Gold game will be a month later, on April 21 at 1:30 pm ET on the NBC Sports Network.

    Relive the Bouts

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    If you weren't at Purcell Pavilion on Saturday, did not get a chance to watch the live broadcast on UND.com, or just feel like watching again, check out this YouTube playlist for all eleven championship fights from the 82nd annual Bengal Bouts finals.


    Assumption.edu - Assumption College has announced that Brian Kelly ('83) will deliver the address at the College's 95th commencement exercises on Saturday, May 12, 2012. During the ceremony, Kelly will also receive an honorary degree.

    "Brian has remained closely connected with Assumption and has proudly articulated how his Catholic liberal arts education and the strong sense of community at Assumption have served as a great foundation for his successful career," said Assumption College President Francesco Cesareo. "He is passionate about how Assumption College uniquely combines both intellectual and spiritual development that supports and encourages each student, and I expect that our graduating seniors and audience members will find inspiration from his life story and experiences."

    A 1983 graduate of Assumption College, Kelly is a veteran of 21 seasons as a head football coach in the collegiate setting. He is heading into his third season as the head football coach at Notre Dame, the 29th in their storied history, and he has guided the Fighting Irish to 16 wins and two bowl games over the last two seasons. Kelly became the first Notre Dame head coach to win a bowl game in his first season with the Fighting Irish. Currently the fifth-winningest active coach in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), his 110 victories as head coach since 2001 are more than all but two active FBS head coaches - Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Mack Brown of Texas.

    Born in Everett, Mass., and raised in Chelsea, Mass., Kelly attended St. John's Preparatory School in Danvers, Mass. A four-year star linebacker for the Assumption College club football team, and captain of the squad in 1981 and 1982, the Assumption teams in those years finished 8-3 and 7-1-1. After graduating from Assumption with a bachelor's degree in political science, he served the College as linebacker coach and defensive coordinator (as well as softball coach) from 1983 to 1986.

    Kelly has long praised the value of an Assumption College education and its role in his spiritual and intellectual development, which "allowed me to grow as a human being," he said. "I am a proud graduate of Assumption College. I greatly value the education I received there as well as what the College taught me about commitment to service. I am delighted to return to my alma mater to address the graduating class of 2012."

    He joined Michigan's Grand Valley State University staff in 1987 as a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach. There, Kelly became the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator in 1989 and took over, at age 28, as head coach in 1991. Kelly compiled a 118-35-2 record (.767) in 13 seasons as head coach of the Lakers, highlighted by NCAA Division II national championships in 2002 and 2003. In 2009, he was inducted into the Grand Valley State Athletics Hall of Fame, and in 2011 Grand Valley State renamed its Laker Turf Building the Kelly Family Sports Center. The Kelly Family Sports Center is a 138,000-square-foot building that houses a regulation football field and a six-lane, 300-meter track.

    After coaching three seasons at Central Michigan where Kelly helped the Chippewas win the Mid-American Conference title in 2006, Kelly spent three seasons at the University of Cincinnati from 2007 to 2009. Kelly led the Bearcats to a 34-6 record (.850) and two straight outright BIG EAST Conference titles that earned BCS appearances in 2008 (FedEx Orange Bowl) and 2009 (Allstate Sugar Bowl). He became the first BIG EAST football coach to win the conference's coach of the year honor three years in a row and Kelly's 12-0 squad in 2009 helped him earn ESPN/Home Depot National Coach of the Year Award. At the time he accepted the position at Notre Dame, he qualified as the winningest active BIG EAST football coach as well as the only league coach with more than 150 wins.

    The parents of three children, Kelly and his wife Paqui host annual events to benefit the Kelly Cares Foundation, established to support organizations, initiatives and programs that align with the goals and values of their family. Paqui, a two-time breast cancer survivor, and Brian have their charity focus on three main areas: personal involvement, with emphasis on breast cancer research, prevention, education and awareness; education and institutional advancement; and community involvement in selected initiatives and projects.

    In June 2010, Brian and Paqui made a $250,000 gift to the University of Notre Dame in support of endeavors in research, academics and community engagement. The gift directly supports three Notre Dame initiatives: cancer research, the Hesburgh Libraries and the Robinson Community Learning Center.
    On Saturday night at 7 pm ET, UND.com will be streaming the 82nd annual Bengal Bouts finals. The bouts are a charity boxing tournament to benefit the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. Catch all 12 championship bouts right here on UND.com, and if you're an Irish football fan, pay extra attention to the 188-lb weight class, as safety Chris Salvi goes for the title. Here's a quick preview of Saturday's fight night:

    And to get you in the spirit...

    Coaching Wisdom

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    With a newborn daughter and a new job, Mike Harrity, the university's associate athletics director for student-athlete development and community programming, amazingly also found time to finish writing a book.

    Coaching Wisdom: Champion Coaches and Their Players Share Successful Leadership Principles was published in late February and is available now.

    Harrity, who joined the Notre Dame family in Dec. 2011 after spending six years at Kansas, spoke with 13 coaches who have combined to lead their teams to an unbelievable 103 national championships, Stanley Cups or Super Bowl titles.

    Brad Stevens, who wrote the foreword for Harrity's book, is the only coach featured who has not won a title, but the 35-year-old is one of the most promising young coaches in college basketball, having led Butler to back-to-back Final Fours and championship game appearances.

    Although "Coaching Wisdom" is based on firsthand interviews with coaches and their players, Harrity explained that it is about more than athletics. "This isn't a book about sports. It's a book for anyone who is a leader - of a family, a school, an organization, or a team," he says.

    "I have a passion for exploring how leaders are able to create a culture that leads to achieving sustainable success. After spending time with the 13 coaches, from a broad range of sports, and their former players, I discovered common themes that emerged strongly. Each theme is represented by the chapters in the book."

    These chapters include Creating a Caring Environment, Communicating Effectively, Keep it Simple, Building Team-First Unity, Motivating and Inspiring Your Team, and Finding Your X-Factor.

    One of Harrity's remarkable discoveries in speaking with these coaches and their players was that in each case, the players' experience and what they valued had mirrored exactly what the coach had intended of his or her team.

    The book began as an idea in spring 2004, when Harrity went out on a limb and wrote to basketball legend John Wooden. Originally, Harrity planned to focus the project on the former UCLA coach, but within the last couple years, it evolved to include other collegiate and professional coaches from across several sports.

    Wooden responded to Harrity's letter, gave him his home phone number, and the two soon set up a meeting at Wooden's home in California. Harrity explains that he asked Coach Wooden for an hour and a half of his time, and ended up spending the entire day with the 93-year-old ten-time NCAA champion.

    Like many, Harrity had heard stories and read books about Wooden's leadership and the many lives he had impacted off the court. Still, he was struck by just how welcoming, friendly and helpful the coaching legend was to him, a total stranger.

    "He had more energy than me," Harrity says. "We developed a strong friendship. He really wanted to help me achieve my goals and dreams."

    Among those that Harrity interviewed were nine-time Stanley Cup champion Scotty Bowman, two-time Super Bowl winner Don Shula, 21-time NCAA champion women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance, and Notre Dame football legend Lou Holtz, who wrote the book's preface.

    It has been an incredibly rewarding process for Harrity. Of all the coaches he contacted hoping to interview, not a single one declined his request for a meeting.

    "I have been continually amazed at how generous all of the coaches and their former players have been with sharing their time and wisdom. Many have become friends. But even if I only sell one copy to my wife and one copy to my parents, I'm a better man, husband and father having had the opportunity to learn from and spend time with some of the greatest leaders of our time."

    You can purchase Harrity's book on Amazon.com and soon, at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore.

    - Josh Flynt ('11)

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