NOTRE DAME — The idea first came to Jaylon Smith in the days following Notre Dame’s win over Arizona State.
At some point in the season, the freshman wanted to wear No. 13 in honor of injured senior linebacker Danny Spond. It’d be a tribute, he thought, to the former player who taught him so much about the position.
Smith didn’t know how to broach the subject, though, so he shelved the thought for another month and a half. As senior day approached, Smith realized it was the perfect opportunity. He approached Spond, who welcomed the idea with a smile.
“I definitely saw his bright, white teeth,” Smith said. “He was smiling. He was just like, ‘Go for it.’” With Spond’s blessing and head coach Brian Kelly’s approval, Smith suited up in a jersey that hadn’t been spotted in the Irish lineup all year.
On Saturday, Nov. 23, two No. 13s jogged out of the tunnel.
One was Smith, who played a key role in Notre Dame’s 23-13 win over BYU. The other was Spond himself, dressed in full uniform to be announced as a senior and greet his parents at midfield. Once the ceremony ended, Spond took his now customary spot on the sideline to serve as Smith’s personal position coach. It’s a role he’s filled since his playing career ended in August due to hemiplagic migraines.
Since Spond’s injury, Smith has stepped in with a strong rookie season at outside linebacker.
With Spond’s advice in his ear and his number on his chest, Smith went on to record three tackles and a crucial pass breakup that prevented BYU from a late-game touchdown. Smith disrupted quarterback Taysom Hill’s pass to Cody Hoffman, which would have moved the Cougars within three points of the Irish.
After the game, Smith and Spond shared a moment in the locker room.
“I really just thanked him for letting me honor him today,” Smith said. “And he said it was a pleasure, that it’s been great being able to coach me.”
Smith will likely return this his customary No. 9 for Notre Dame’s trip to Stanford on Saturday, Nov. 30. But the final home game of the season was special for two teammates who grew exceptionally close through unfortunate circumstances.
“I never got a chance to actually play with him other than two days in camp, and I really didn’t know much then,” Smith said. “But I always knew that that’s the guy I would ultimately be behind.
“Danny’s been a great mentor to me, so I was happy that coach allowed it.”