Oct. 17, 2013
By Craig Chval Jr. ’15
It’s hard to imagine Daniel Smith doing anything but playing football at Notre Dame. The senior wide receiver had flourished in 2013 before a fractured ankle in the Arizona State game ended his season and career.
A graduate of South Bend’s Clay High School, he grew up in the shadow of the Golden Dome and developed into a standout athlete. He saw his two older sisters graduate from the University and marry two other Irish grads.
But as a child, Smith showed little interest in football.
“It’s always been a dream to come here,” he says. “But I didn’t get involved in Pop Warner or anything. I was more into basketball and soccer, and those were the sports I focused on as a younger kid.”
Smith began playing football in seventh grade after the game was exposed to him by one of his Domer brothers-in-law: former Irish safety Gerome Sapp.
“My interest in football started when he came into the family. Meeting him kind of persuaded me to start playing football, so my love for football started with getting involved with Gerome,” he recalls. “Meeting him led me to want to come to Notre Dame and to play football here.”
This season, Smith often had been called upon as a go-to lead blocker for running plays.
“Throughout my career, I’ve tried to focus on all aspects on being a receiver, so I try to develop all aspects,” Smith says. “I don’t just focus on blocking, but that’s one of the things I’ve been showcased in. It’s definitely been a development through coaches and learning the game.”
Although blocking is a key part of any receiver’s game, Smith’s role on the inside of the play exceeded typical responsibilities. Blocking linebackers and blocking cornerbacks are pretty different propositions.
“In high school I played defense, so I was used to the physical aspect of the game,” he says. “And then my first year here at Notre Dame I did a lot of special teams, so I was used to the physical aspect of the game, but now it’s just a little more physical.
“I’m in there blocking linebackers – just bigger bodies. But blocking has always been a part of being a wide receiver.”
From lining up on the outside as a receiver to an almost tight end positioning, Smith had a great deal of responsibility in the offense. It could have proven to be overwhelming for some, but he embraces adding those levels to his game.
“I think you learn it as the game goes on,” he says. “As you get older and older, you develop that sense of run plays vs. pass plays, what you need to do, your positioning, and everything, so it’s definitely something that all receivers need to develop.”
Off the field, Smith is following his sisters by pursuing a degree in the Mendoza College of Business. But while they received accounting degrees, he chose a different path.
“I started out in accounting, but it wasn’t really for me,” he explains. “I wanted to pursue something where I could be more creative. That’s kind of one of my talents is my creativity, so I wanted to go into a career in which I could be creative.
“You never know going in. My sisters tried to talk me out of accounting. They like accounting, but they just know my traits and what I like to do, and they thought marketing would be a better fit for me.”
Smith stuck with marketing and says he is considering entering the field of advertising. When classes aren’t enough to showcase his creativity, though, he finds other ways to do so.
“I’m pretty decent at drawing. It’s a little hobby I have to relieve some stress,” he says. “It’s just something I tried out and was successful at it. So I’m just trying to get better at it in my free time.”
Although it’s hard for a Notre Dame football player to gain much spare time, Smith has also found himself connecting more with his fellow receivers.
“We’re definitely closer than I’ve ever experienced here at Notre Dame. We have each other’s backs in all aspects on and off the field,” he says. “And we spend a lot more time together than in the past, which I think is benefitting us on the field.
“We play for each other. We play for the team, of course, but we play for each other.”
It was Smith’s own family that brought him to football in the seventh grade. It would seem that after four years of playing for the Irish, he has discovered what it means to be a part of the Notre Dame family.