Two years ago last month, new Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said of senior-to-be and 2009 hybrid safety/linebacker Harrison Smith: ““He never would have been an outside ‘backer in our system. He never fit that prototype for us. If he can’t play safety, he can’t play.”
Over the next two seasons and 26 games, Smith proved he could play, breaking up 24 passes, picking off 7 more (all in 2010) and recording 183 tackles, second only to Manti Te’o in that span.
Said Smith of his ascent from 2009 also-ran to 2012 first-day pick: “If you told me I was going in any day two or three years ago I would have been pumped. It’s pretty unreal how much (of a difference) a couple of years makes.”
Smith, a member of the 2007 recruiting class, is the second member of the 2011 Irish to earn a first round selection, joining Michael Floyd who was picked No. 13 overall by Arizona. Smith and Floyd become the first Irish teammates to be drafted in the first round since Bryant Young (7), Aaron Taylor (16) and Jeff Burris (27) were each selected in the 1994 draft.
Smith finished his Notre Dame career as a 47-game starter (51 games played overall) with 309 tackles (9th all-time), 18.5 tackles for loss, and 28 passes defended (2nd) to go along with seven interceptions.
He joins tight end Kyle Rudolph (selected No. 43 in the second round last year), center John Sullivan (2008), and tight end John Carlson (2008) on the Vikings roster.
Smith was Notre Dame's team captain in 2011; the first lone captain at the program since Jarious Jackson in 1999.