Dec. 9, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - Recognizing the nation's premier linebacker at the high school, collegiate and professional levels, the Butkus Award has only twice seen someone win at both of the first two steps. Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith continued the legacy of Irish linebacking dominance on Tuesday when he joined Manti Te'o in this exclusive club.
Smith, the 2012 high school recipient at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was named as the 2015 collegiate winner after compiling a 113-tackle season at the heart of the Irish defense. A team captain, the versatile and athletic Smith is the first Notre Dame player with at least 113 tackles, nine tackles for loss and five passes defended since Courtney Watson in 2003. He is one of just three players at a contract bowl eligible school this fall with at least 113 tackles, nine TFLs and five passed defended.
Smith is the first Irish player with consecutive 100-tackle seasons since Te'o hit that milestone for three straight years from 2010-12.
Smith turned in some of his best individual performances late in the season, recording at least 10 tackles in five of Notre Dame's last six games, including a career-high 15 at No. 9 Stanford on Nov. 28. In that game, the Irish held Heisman Trophy finalist Christian McCaffrey to just 94 yards rushing and 113 offensive yards, both his lowest totals over the Cardinal's final 11 games of the season.
He leads the Irish in 2015 with his 68 solo tackles, 45 assisted tackles, 113 total tackles, five pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. Smith ranks third on the team with his nine TFLs.
In recognizing Smith, the award's selection committee stated: "Jaylon Smith is an exceptional athlete with the instincts, explosion and striking ability that can tilt the field. He can rush the passer, cover receivers and consistently makes his presence felt all over the field against the run. He's an impact player who leads by example and is as talented as any college linebacker to win the award the last decade."
The Butkus Award selection committee is comprised of football coaches, recruiters, talent scouts and journalists who study football talent yearlong.
Selectors are asked to recognize the qualities that defined Butkus' career, heavily factoring the following five traits: toughness (physicality and mental perseverance), on-field leadership (intimidating presence and respected tone-setter), competitiveness (intensity, football temperament and relentless effort), football character (work ethic, drive and determination) and most fundamentally, linebacking skills (instincts, tackling, filling, angles, balance, knee bend, blitzing, shedding, playmaking and cover skills), especially in critical situations.
The Irish will be back in action on New Year's Day as they face Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl at 1 p.m. ET in Glendale, Arizona, live on ESPN.