SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In the days after Notre Dame's win over Arizona State, a thought came to freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith: Hey, maybe wearing Danny Spond's No. 13 would be a cool tribute on senior day.
The game was still a month and a half away, so Smith mentally tabled the idea. But Smith knew he wanted to honor Spond, who effectively became a personal coach for him this year.
So leading up to Saturday's game, Smith went to Spond and broached the idea.
"I definitely saw his bright white teeth," Smith said. "He was smiling."
With Spond's thumbs-up, Smith took it to coach Brian Kelly for approval. He got the okay there, and donned a No. 13 jersey while playing a key role in Notre Dame's 23-13 win over BYU.
Smith wasn't the only one wearing a No. 13 jersey on Saturday, though — for the first time this season, Spond came out of the tunnel in full uniform, being announced as a senior and hugging his parents. But that was just for pregame — Spond shed his helmet once the game started and returned to his coaching duties on the sideline, as he's done every day this fall after ending his playing career due to hemiplagic migraines in August.
Smith recorded three tackles, pressured BYU quarterback Taysom Hill once and made an outstanding play to break up what would've been a late touchdown pass to receiver Cody Hoffman.
Hill spotted Hoffman with good position in the end zone running a slant, but Smith leapt into the passing lane and batted the ball down. Instead of a touchdown that would've cut the Irish lead to 23-20, BYU had a chip-shot field goal blocked to all but seal their loss.
"I actually was signaling touchdown when I saw the slant, and No. 13 for Notre Dame knocked it down," BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "I thought Cody had the guy beat inside. That was a huge play."
Those were the kind of plays Spond made last year, successfully balancing the difficult run and pass responsibilities of the 'dog' outside linebacker position. They're the kind of plays Smith has made this year, too — and he's quickly picked up the role thanks in part to the tutelage of Spond.
"Danny's been a great mentor to me," Smith said. "I was happy coach allowed that."