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Jaylon Smith’s contract extension is more than just a well-deserved payday

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Being a Fort Wayne resident like the former Notre Dame stud, Tuesday’s announcement about Jaylon Smith’s contract extension meant a little more than just money.

NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Notre Dame vs Ohio State
From the back of a training cart after almost losing his football career to the (technically) $69.5 million man, Jaylon Smith went through hell to get to where he is and it’s wonderful to see.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m so f- - -ing proud of him,” I exclaimed on a quoted tweet after reading the news that former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith had reached an agreement on a contract extension with the Dallas Cowboys this past Tuesday afternoon.

It’s been quite the rollercoaster for Smith, who wasn’t even sure if he’d ever play football again after the 2016 Fiesta Bowl where he suffered one of the more freakish knee injuries you’ll see an athlete suffer. (I’d link you to the video of it, but nobody should watch that again or at all for that matter.)

Truthfully, as an Irish fan decked out in blue and gold with a pair of Notre Dame Zubaz on watching from my couch, I didn’t even care about the rest of the 44-28 beatdown that Smith’s current teammate Ezekiel Elliott and the Ohio State Buckeyes handed the deflated Irish that day.

A cool tidbit about a bleak day that some of us may have forgotten, though:

All I wanted to know was how bad Smith was injured. That was the only thing on my mind throughout the rest of the game and the day.

During that time, Smith was mocked in many places as a potential top-5 pick in that year’s draft along with former OSU defensive end Joey Bosa. Some even had him as high as the top player on their overall prospect board after winning the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker that season.

My heart sunk because as a Fort Wayne resident and a constant follower of Smith’s career, I was worried his draft stock would plummet and he’d be out millions of dollars. He worked so hard to get to where he was and nobody ever had a bad thing to say about him. That told me all I needed to know, even after actually meeting him.

For a surprise, my family had it set up to have Jaylon come over to speak with me, knowing I was a huge Notre Dame football fan and his grandmother (who would give me the best death glare ever for not accepting her payments to cut her grass when I was able to) used to be my next-door neighbor. Even in high school, I knew he was going to be special. Little acts like that make all the difference.

When we skip past all of the awesome moments he provided during his time in South Bend, a phone call happened that changed everything and I knew better days were coming.

Actually, wait. Let’s watch one of those moments first. It’s my favorite because I was actually in the house for this one.

You can watch this one later, but I love this one, too. Not bad for a freshman.

He turned out pretty good, eh?

But, back to that phone call because it was important.

Not only did he get a call from Jerry freakin’ Jones from the draft war room of “America’s Team”, he got to play with older brother Rod (another Fort Wayne-based stud).

How cool of a start to a redemption story can you have by getting to play professional football with your brother for the most renowned franchise in football?

(The grandmother I mentioned? She’s the one in the aqua top and more shocked than anybody at the bowling alley that night. Hi, Miss Gloria! Thank you so much for your kindness.)

Let’s skip ahead a little further to yesterday.

And the money? Cha-ching, baby.

When you put the money on his current deal, that equates and comes out to a nice and tidy $69.5 million after just 22 starts, but racking up 202 combined tackles (including 82 solo tackles last season), five sacks, four forced fumbles and the No. 61 spot on the NFL’s Top 100 Players list.

69.5 million dollars for a guy who had career-threatening nerve damage in his left knee.

That’s so incredibly awesome and I couldn’t have been any happier if I tried to be on Tuesday.

Here’s the quote that got me, though:

That’s the sign of a guy that just gets the big picture. You can tell he got a Notre Dame education, can’t you?

The best part is, that’s not a front or a joke. That’s just Jaylon being Jaylon. From everyone that I’ve talked to about him that knows him and his family well, they all same the same thing (or something quite similar): “He’s just a good dude.”

That was made pretty clear in the message he posted on social media following the big press conference to announce his contract extension.

I think Notre Dame fans would agree with this, seeing as they’ve been able to catch Smith on a few occasions supporting his old program, along with the former All-American coming back to receive his degree from the school after leaving for the draft early.

On a personal note, as I’ve done a few times before, I’d like to thank Jaylon for not only giving some nerd and a fan the time of day as a young kid, but battling through everything he had to go through to be a strong representative of not only the community we shared growing up in the same city, but a strong representative of how the darkest nights can bring the brightest days.

Congratulations to you and your family, 54.

You’ve made this long-time Irish fan quite proud.