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Luers linebacker honored as nation’s best

– Two versions of the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker, will reside in Indiana this year with a future Notre Dame linebacker winning the high school award and a current Irish linebacker taking the college award Monday.

Bishop Luers’ Jaylon Smith, who committed to Notre Dame in June, won the high school Butkus Award, and Notre Dame senior Manti Te’o won the collegiate Butkus Award. There is also a professional version of the award.

Smith didn’t expect to be honored in the morning when Luers Principal Mary Keefer told him to come to the school’s athletic office. He thought it was another attempt to talk him into playing basketball.

As it turned out, the senior was there to be told by the award’s namesake – Hall of Fame Chicago Bears linebacker Dick Butkus – on a conference call that he won the award.

“We are proud to report that you are the 2012 Butkus high school award winner,” Butkus said over the loudspeaker on athletic director Jim Huth’s desk. “You are a good example for what we are trying to set.”

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Notre Dame recruit had 75 tackles, 20 for loss, and eight sacks for the four-time defending Class 2A state champions.

“It’s an honor just to be able to represent Bishop Luers with something like this,” Smith said. “I have heard so many things about Dick Butkus and how he set the tempo as a linebacker, and I am proud to be part of the family.”

There will be an assembly at the school Dec. 15 to present Smith with the award. Te’o will be presented with the award Dec. 17 at Notre Dame.

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate it,” Smith said to Butkus after hearing the news of the award. “I am looking forward to meeting you.”

Smith is the first player from Indiana to receive the high school version of the award, which has been handed out since 2008. Te’o was the first player to receive the prep award.

The 6-2, 255-pound Te’o led the No. 1 Irish (12-0), who play Alabama in the BCS championship game Jan. 7 in Miami, with 103 tackles, with 5 1/2 for loss, and seven interceptions this season.

“It’s great that I am going to Notre Dame, and Manti Te’o is the first to receive this award as a high school player,” said Smith, who has a chance to become Northeast Indiana’s first Mr. Football when the award is announced Thursday. “To carry that tradition on, I am proud.”

gjones@jg.net

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