In their words: Capturing Jaylon Smith's historic season at Notre Dame

"He's just a freak athlete," Malik Zaire said of Jaylon Smith, above. "It's just like playing with like a LeBron James." Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The numbers told the story. And just in case they were not enough, so, too, did the words of Notre Dame players and coaches.

Jaylon Smith, the Butkus Award winner and consensus All-American, entered Friday's BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State leading the Fighting Irish in tackles, with 113.

The next-closest teammate, Joe Schmidt, had 65.

All of this was expected, of course. Smith was, after all, a five-star prospect in 2013. He was the Butkus Award winner in high school, too, which means he is one of only two players to have won the top linebacker honor at both the high school and college level, joining the man he replaced in South Bend, Manti Te'o.

All of which makes the way Smith went out on New Year's Day -- tearing his left ACL and MCL, according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen -- so, so cruel.

If that was the last Notre Dame had seen of Smith -- school sources have told Mortensen that Smith is still expecting to apply for draft eligibility -- then it is worth looking back at the season, and college career, that he had.

Allow the rest of the Notre Dame football program to tell the story.

Quarterback Malik Zaire (Aug. 18): "He's just a freak athlete. It's just like playing with like a LeBron James. He's just better than a lot of the athletes that he's around. So it's very appreciative on my side, because I know he's gonna get me the ball back so we can do our thing, but in practice he just makes plays, that's just Jaylon. But against anybody else it would've been a touchdown, so it would be a few things like he was able to make those plays that has stopped some of the things that we'd done, even though we ran it perfectly, but he's just been the better ballplayer at that time.

"But it helps us grow as an offense to make us be more specific, and it forces us to execute at a higher level knowing that we got guys like Jaylon out here that can make plays even when the play is ran perfectly, so it just forces us to play better as a unit, and it's good to have him out there."

Coach Brian Kelly on Smith being named a captain (Aug. 27): "Jaylon is just such a force on the field. Makes such an impact, so impactful, that you can't help but notice him every single down that he's out there. He's our best player on defense. By far. It's not even close. He's that good of a player. Sheldon Day is a really fine player. KeiVarae Russell is a very, very fine player. He is a dominating football player. We just felt it was important that he'd be in a leadership position."

Kelly on if Smith is the most versatile defensive player he's coached (Sept. 8): "Short answer, I haven't coached a player like him before, period. Yeah, I don't have a lot to say. Your statement about what he can do is why he is a unique talent. He can line up with his hand on the ground. He can cover the inside receiver. He can play in the box. He can tackle in open space. There's not much he can't do. He's a rare, rare defensive player. It's just fun watching him play."

Linebacker Joe Schmidt (Dec. 21): "You talk about Jaylon Smith, the first thing that comes to mind is ridiculous physical trait. A lot of times it doesn't make sense. When I think about Jaylon I think about the way we are able to work together, and I think that it's been so fun for me to play next to him because the way we see the game is so similar, and I know what he's gonna do before he does it, he knows what I'm gonna do before I do it and it makes for just a fun time on the football field.

"Obviously it's great when Jaylon just runs by everyone, defeats the block and makes the play, and that's what everybody sees. But I see the little things behind the scenes in order to do that -- the film that he watches on his own or with me, the way he coaches people, the way he lives his life, it's really cool. So I'm excited for Jaylon, he deserves all the acclaim and the praise he's getting. I'm excited for his future."

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer (Jan. 1): "He's a monster. He's a dude. He's a guy that is going to be playing in the NFL for a long time."