SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -Notre Dame linebacker Brian Smith doesn't like his canine nickname.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Smith, who promises Notre Dame's season-opening game against San Diego State (0-1) on Saturday is ``going to be violent,'' doesn't think ``Puppy'' is a fitting moniker.
``I want Pit, or Rot or Doberman. I don't care. Just give me a masculine dog name,'' Smith said.
But he can't shake the name given by defensive coordinator Corwin Brown when Smith, while still in high school, attended a coaches clinic and was described as a ``young pup.'' The nickname is necessary with Toryan Smith as his backup, Harrison Smith starting beside him at outside linebacker and Scott Smith his backup.
Some teammates also believe Puppy is fitting because of the way Smith followed fifth-year senior Maurice Crum Jr. around this summer, picking his brain about moving from outside to inside linebacker - the same switch Crum had made.
Smith sat next to Crum in meetings, roomed with him during the preseason and followed him around trying to learn the position.
``Mo is like the general. Mo knows everything,'' outside linebacker Kerry Neal said. ``So for Brian to learn, he just learns from the best. That's why they're together all the time.''
The Irish are counting on Smith to be able to make the change and anchor their defense.
``He has a chance at being something pretty special,'' coach Charlie Weis said.
Irish coaches weren't sure about that when Smith was a senior at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kan. Even though Smith was highly rated by recruiting analysts and his father, Chris, played fullback for Notre Dame from 1981-84, the Irish didn't offer him a scholarship at first because they couldn't see him fitting into their 4-3 scheme.
``He was bouncing back between an inside linebacker and an outside linebacker and you couldn't get a grasp for which he'd be better at,'' Weis said.
Smith, who grew up idolizing former Notre Dame linebacker Kory Minor, was crushed. When Iowa offered him a scholarship, he verbally committed.
Then the Irish fired defensive coordinator Rick Minter after the 2006 season and replaced him with Brown, who brought in a 3-4 scheme. Suddenly the Irish, who couldn't figure out where Smith would fit in, thought he would be a perfect fit.
``Then his versatility became a huge asset instead of initially a tough one to figure out what you were going to do with him,'' Weis said.
But when Notre Dame offered him a full ride, Smith wasn't ready to accept.
``My ego kind of got in my way. I was like, 'They didn't want me then. I'm not going to come back,''' Smith said. ``Then I sat down and I was like, 'OK, come on. It's Notre Dame. I wanted this my whole life.'''
Smith started last season on the scout team, but his playing time steadily increased as the season wore on. He made his first tackle in the third game against Michigan, made a season-high five stops against Navy in November and started the final three games at outside linebacker.
His season highlight came against Boston College, when he intercepted a Matt Ryan pass and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Smith admits, though, he didn't know what his assignment was on the play and just got lucky.
``I was just in the right spot at the right time,'' he said.
Irish coaches began noticing he was in the right spot at the right time a lot. They moved him to inside linebacker during spring practice and he kept making plays even though he wasn't always sure about what he was doing.
``I guess I was making plays but I didn't know because I wasn't comfortable where I was,'' Smith said. ``But coach Weis said I was making plays day in and day out.''
It's been fun watching Smith develop, Crum said.
``He's starting to mold himself as a leader for the future,'' Crum said.
Smith also hopes he's continuing the legacy started by his father, who blocked for Allen Pinkett and was Notre Dame's second-leading rusher in 1984.
``I want to make a name for myself. I don't want to be Chris' son,'' he said. ``I want to be Brian Smith, middle linebacker for Notre Dame.''
And definitely not Puppy.

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