On the Sunday following Daniel Smith's season-ending ankle injury early in October during the Arizona State game, Irish coach Brian Kelly took a moment to address what the senior receiver's injury meant to the team.
"You know, I usually don't use a 'win-one-for-the-Gipper' talk, and I don't want to equate it in those terms, but generally speaking, we talked about losing Danny and in particular that he probably wasn't going to play again," Kelly said at the time. "There was a lot of emotion in the locker room, because they love Danny Smith and what he's done for our program as a dedicated player for Notre Dame. He loves Notre Dame, and we've seen him grow as a person and as a player and he's going to be sorely missed."
Kelly's words are perhaps the most accurate reflection possible on Smith's Irish career.
The South Bend native saw his senior campaign end prematurely after breaking his ankle against the Sun Devils on Oct. 5, but he still has plenty to remember from his time at Notre Dame.
"It's been more than I could have ever imagined, really," Smith said. "My sister actually just asked me, like it's amazing that I'm already like a senior, and she asked me some of the moments I will really cherish. It's tough because there are so many. Just being with my teammates and just having the experience. Last year we had a great year and it was a great run for us, and living through that whole national-championship run, it was a great experience for me. And then just the people that I've met on this journey, it's just been awesome. And those are the things I will really never forget, just playing next to those people and playing for them."
Smith's Notre Dame journey began as the fulfillment of what he said had been a dream of his growing up, and the Clay High School graduate wasted no time in living the dream. Smith saw special-teams action in seven games in 2010, finishing with one tackle and a critical fumble recovery in an upset win against Utah on senior day in Notre Dame Stadium.
"I enjoyed it," Smith said of contributing on special teams. "It was a learning experience, just going out there. Special teams, that's where a lot goes on that people may change the channel, act like it's a commercial break, but a lot goes on ... For me, it was just a great experience to kind of go out there and feel what it's like to be a college athlete at the highest level."
After seeing limited action as a sophomore, Smith registered four starts and appeared in all 13 contests during Notre Dame's title-game run in his junior season. He made seven receptions on the season but made his most significant mark as a blocker.
"I thought I was a good blocker in high school, as well," Smith said. "But I came to college and it's a whole new game, so I had to really develop that skill through the years. ... I saw an area where I could help my team, so I really focused on that and tried to become the best at it that I could.
"You have to be aggressive because you don't want to be the receiver ... who misses a block and then we could have had a touchdown. You never want to have that on your back."
As a senior, Smith made two starts and played in all six games - while again occupying an important role in locking down defensive backs on the outside and down the field - before the injury. Although now limited to the sidelines and rehab, Smith still has a role to play with the team.
"As of now I am just trying to stay close to the guys," he said. "And I've talked to a couple of the younger guys, because we have a young crew, receiving corps. So just trying to pass on some of my knowledge, my playing experience and seeing things I've learned while playing."
Noting that Irish receivers all maintain close relationships, Smith said he has enjoyed watching fellow senior TJ Jones lead a crop of young playmakers in his stead.
"It's a great feeling, just because he's representing all of us out there as a receiving corps," he said. "Him and [junior receiver] DaVaris Daniels are doing a great job. Really all of them."
Still, spending his final half-season off the field and on crutches has been difficult, even for the upbeat Smith.
"It's been tough, but I have a great support system around me who's just really been by my side and didn't let me get down on myself," Smith said. "And that's not the type of person I am. I try to be a positive person. And I've had great teammates. They've shown me a lot of support, and I appreciate all that they've done for me since I've been down."
Although his college career lacks the picture-perfect ending, Smith said he could not have imagined himself anywhere but Notre Dame.
"I never considered going anywhere else. I'm from South Bend, it was a dream of mine, so I've lived out a dream and I couldn't be any more happy."
Contact Joseph Monardo at firstname.lastname@example.org