NOTRE DAME — Louis Nix’s personality dominates the microphones, while Stephon Tuitt’s size dominates the camera.
Cornerbacks Bennett Jackson and KeiVarae Russell and safety Matthias Farley have become case studies for how a grab bag of offensive players and football newcomers can somehow gel to become a successful secondary.
With Manti Te’o gone and Danny Spond unable to play football anymore, any talk of linebackers usually revolves around who will start, who will rotate in and how early freshman Jaylon Smith will get on the field.
Somehow, one of Notre Dame’s most reliable and impacting defensive players in the Brian Kelly era gets lost in the shuffle.
While Te’o grabbed headlines in 2012, Prince Shembo slipped under the radar and racked up 51 tackles, 12 quarterback hurries, 10.5 tackles for losses and 7.5 sacks as a starting outside linebacker.
“I think you guys are missing the boat on Prince Shembo,” Kelly said to reporters on Saturday, Aug. 17. “The way he plays, the passion that he plays the game every single play, it’s just so enjoyable. He’s a throwback in a lot of ways with his energy and his toughness and the way he comes to work every day. It’s 100 percent all in. And he plays the game with that chip where ‘I’m gonna do whatever is necessary on this play to be disruptive.’ You’ve almost got to take his helmet away from him. I love those guys.”
Talk about walk softly and carry a big stick.
But it’s not as if Shembo is ignored. He just doesn’t command attention like Nix does or Te’o did. He’d rather lead through example than an impassioned speech or pep talk.
“I listen to everything,” Shembo said. “I don’t need to say anything. Why do I have to talk? I’d rather listen. Most of the time when you talk, you talk too much and get in trouble. You’ll never get in trouble for listening. So that’s how I think.”
That attitude comes from traits he’s picked up from his father, who immigrated to the United States from the Democratic Republic of the Congo before Shembo was born. It’s an unshakable work ethic that drives Shembo to get in better shape so that he can out-last his opponents on the field. His goal is to never get tired while simultaneously tiring out the opposing team.
“The emotions I have, they started when I was young,” he said. “The way I carry myself started with what my dad said. He said when they go out there, they’re going to try to hurt you so you’ve got to hurt them before they hurt you. I’ve been thinking like that ever since and continuously working hard. My parents work hard so I try to live my life like that and never be satisfied and always try to get better every day.”
At 6-foot-11/2, 258 pounds, Shembo isn’t necessarily a physically imposing specimen. Ideally, he’d be two or three inches taller to fit in with the prototypical elite college outside linebacker, but Shembo say’s he happy just the way he is.
Smaller stature means more leverage against offensive linemen.
“That’s exactly why I want to be the size I am,” he said. “I’ll get under other guys. I ask a lot of linemen, and they don’t like to bend, and if I work on my leverage, it’s hard to block shorter guys. I don’t have the arm length of a taller person, but I make up for it with the strength in my legs. I can get low under them. I prefer how I am.”
Shembo may be more of a listener than a gabber, but his rare flashes of passion off the field electrified fans and teammates last season.
He ignited the pep rally crowd before the Michigan game in September, raging about his stolen bike seat and saying the Wolverines were responsible for the theft. Later in the season, he could be seen sprinting up and down the sideline before a game, waving a sledgehammer like William Wallace would wave a sword before battle.
But mostly, he lets his smash-mouth play do the talking. And that’s just fine with Kelly.
“He doesn’t lead vocally,” Kelly said. “He’s a guy that’s not gonna say much but just his energy, his passion and just his actions out on the field and the way he works. You can see just by his uniform — it’s drenched every day — about the work he puts in every day.”