When Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith walks across the stage at graduation Sunday at Notre Dame, it will be the fulfillment of a promise he made to his mother three years ago.
He said he would return to earn his college degree when he left college early to join the NFL Draft.
At the time, that seemed like more of a sure thing than an NFL career, considering that Smith suffered a tragic knee injury in his final game at Notre Dame, the 2016 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.
There were many who thought he would never play again, considering he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and the lateral collateral ligament in his left knee and also suffered nerve damage that caused drop foot, yet he went pro anyway.
The Cowboys took a chance on him by selecting him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft, thanks to some inside knowledge of team physician Dr. Dan Cooper being selected to perform the surgery.
After sitting his rookie season, Smith got on the field in 2017 before making a full recovery and had a breakout season in 2018 with 16 starts at middle linebacker; he finished second on the team in tackles, while proving doubters and skeptics wrong.
But there was still some unfinished business to attend to.
So after the season, he went back to Notre Dame and became a full-time student again and will now walk across the stage Sunday with his bachelor’s degree in film and television.
“It was very stressful, but life-changing,’‘ Smith said. “I’m excited to walk across the stage this weekend.’‘
It was no easy task but Smith has already done the impossible on the field, so he wasn’t about to shy away from taking 21 hours to get his degree.
The classes included: Critical pedagogy, Latino studies, Latino muralism, Philosophy of human nature, and Intro to poetry.
“You name it, I took it,’‘ Smith said.
He also didn’t forget his day job, as he found time to work out with the Notre Dame football team to stay in shape.
“I mean, you know, it was a great experience, for sure,’‘ Smith said.