Blue and Gold Illustrated

February 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 43 of 47

44 FEBRUARY 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED WHERE HAVE YOU GONE? BY LOU SOMOGYI F rom 1987-90, Notre Dame assem- bled four consecutive No. 1-ranked recruiting classes. In other words, the Fighting Irish were what the Alabama football dy- nasty has been the past decade while capturing five of the last nine national titles and vying for a sixth in 10 this season by making the four-team Col- lege Football Playoff once again. The common link between Notre Dame from that era and Alabama in the present is tight end Irv Smith. Irv Smith Sr. was part of the Fighting Irish harvest in 1989, eventually devel- oping into one of the nine first-round selections (and 10 in the second round) that Notre Dame produced in those four classes from 1987-90. Nearly 30 years later, Irv Smith Jr. is a junior stalwart for the Crimson Tide, earning second-team All-SEC honors this season while nabbing 38 passes that averaged 17.1 yards per catch and featured a school-record seven touch- down receptions by a tight end. Whenever his schedule allows, the elder Smith, who graduated in busi- ness administration in 1993, will attend Notre Dame functions, as he did in San Diego Oct. 27 for the Navy game when Alabama had a bye. Inevitably, the grilling occurs from fellow alumni on why his son is at Alabama. "I just say, 'Hey, I tried and did ev- erything I could,'" said Smith, who also has been a regular at the Notre Dame Football Fantasy camp with 1993 classmate/second-round pick Reggie Brooks, who is employed by the Notre Dame athletics department. "My son wanted to go there as well, but at the end of the day God had a bigger plan for him and that's why he's playing at Alabama." At prestigious Brother Martin, an all- boys Catholic school in New Orleans, Smith Jr. excelled in the classroom and the gridiron. Rated as a three-star pros- pect by Rivals and 247Sports, Smith Jr. didn't have the higher-ranked status of recent four-star tight end recruits at Notre Dame such as Nic Weishar (2014), Alizé Mack (2015) and then Brock Wright and Cole Kmet, who were the two top-ranked Fighting Irish prospects (both top 100) by Rivals in the 2017 haul. Wright committed to Notre Dame on June 26, 2015, while Kmet did so Oct. 2 of that year. That was during Smith's senior season at Brother Martin. With the Notre Dame tight end situation well stocked for the future, Smith Jr. was never extended an offer, which the elder Smith admitted was a "disap- pointment" to both father and son. Should Notre Dame and Alabama meet in the College Football Playoff, Smith would have no issues with where his allegiance would be. "I bleed blue and gold, but blood [or Crimson] is definitely thicker than water," he said. THE PATH TO NOTRE DAME About 30 years ago at this time, the Trenton, N.J., native Smith himself was destined to play in the state of Ala- bama, but not for the Crimson Tide. As a two-sport star in football and base- ball, he was primed to follow a pattern. "I was going to go to Auburn be- cause Bo Jackson had just come out of there a few years earlier and I wanted to be a football player and baseball player like Bo there," said Smith, whose older brother Ed played in the minor leagues before turning to foot- ball. Smith had already taken four of his five allowed official visits: Florida State (which also had featured football/ baseball star Deion Sanders), Clemson, USC and UCLA — with the last two "just to see California." "My last trip was to Auburn, and I was going to commit there on it," Smith recalled. "Then I got the call the Monday from Auburn before the trip that they had just gotten two tight ends and they didn't have a scholarship left for me." It was similar to his son 30 years later when suddenly there was no more room at the inn at the school of his choice. When news spread that Smith was still available, esteemed Notre Dame recruiting coordinator Vinny Cerrato immediately contacted him to take his final official visit to northern Indiana. "Vinny Cerrato wouldn't leave me alone," a laughing Smith said of Cer- rato's tenacity that eventually led him to relent to taking the trip. Smith had zero intention of attend- ing Notre Dame for at least two rea- sons. One was the previous year the Irish had signed the No. 1 tight end in the country, Derek Brown, the Pa- rade Player of the Year who started Irv Smith, 1989-92 Tight End The former first-round pick is now enjoying Irv Jr. coming full circle at Alabama Smith produced 20 receptions for 262 yards and two scores during his senior year in South Bend and was selected No. 20 overall in the 1993 NFL Draft. PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH DIGITAL MEDIA

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