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Outside the mold, Shembo thriving at OLB

Prince Shembo, Sean Cwynar, Hafis Williams

Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo (55)j reacts with defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (89) and defensive lineman Hafis Williams (94) after Shembo sacked Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)


While we haven’t actually seen Prince Shembo in action at outside linebacker, all reports from the coaching staff have the expectations for the 6-foot-2, 250-pound sophomore sky high. An interesting proposition, considering that Shembo likely wouldn’t have been on the roster if it were up to Brian Kelly and his coaching staff.

“We weren’t really sure to be honest with you,” Kelly said today, when asked about Shembo, a linebacker about three-inches shorter than what the current Irish staff is looking for in outside linebackers. “He was recruited here by the former staff so he was an inside linebacker and we saw some great athletic ability. He’s not in profile, but he has other qualities that make him an effective player.”

Those qualities and that effectiveness were on display nearly immediately, as Shembo became one of the best surprises of the freshman class, kicking off his career as a veritable designated pass rusher, contributing immediately with 4.5 sacks during his limited experience last year.

When Kelly announced during spring drills that Shembo would be working with fellow sophomore Danny Spond at the drop linebacker position it was easy to assume that Shembo would take the snaps as a pass-rusher and run stopper while Spond would work mostly in coverage. That hasn’t been the case, as Shembo has been a quick study at the ‘dog’ backer position, distancing himself from the pack while continuing to develop as a player.

It’s interesting that while Kelly, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin have done an excellent job bringing in prototype edge players like Ishaq Williams, Ben Councell, and Troy Niklas, the two starting outside linebackers for the Irish are two guys that are actually undersized for the system: Shembo and senior Darius Fleming, another 6-foot-2, and roughly 250 pound linebacker.

Eric Hansen in the
South Bend Tribune has some great details on Shembo’s upbringing, coming from two parents that immigrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo to North Carolina, and the younger Shembo appreciates the hard work his parents put in to make his career at Notre Dame possible.

And work is something Shembo embraces from his roots. Shembo’s parents came from Congo - a country of 71 million people now ravaged by war, famine and disease - to attend school at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

“I’ve never been (to Congo),” Shembo said. “But I know what their life was like. You don’t take anything for granted. You have to be grateful, that’s the biggest thing.

“And work ethic. A lot of foreigners, they come here and they don’t start with much. So you really have to build a name for yourself.”

Shembo seems well on his way to do that, and teaches his uncles English in what little spare time he has. A number of other family members have immigrated to the U.S., recently, and thus are also budding football fans.

“Football is soccer to them,” Shembo said. “And I did play soccer when I was younger. But as I got older, I had to choose, and I picked football. My dad just told me to be tough and play.”

And that he does, even though ND may never recruit another 6-2 outside linebacker in the Kelly Era.

With Fleming and Steve Filer graduating this year, Shembo might be the last of a breed: a regular sized outside linebacker.

Five years ago, with the Irish gearing up for a BCS season, Charlie Weis relied on a 6-foot, 215-pound Travis Thomas to start at outside linebacker.

The defense has certainly grown up.