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Notre Dame Football

2023 A Year of Reunions at Notre Dame for WR Kaleb Smith

March 9, 2023

Kaleb Smith entered the Transfer Portal on December 5th and quickly made the decision to play his final season at Notre Dame as he signed with the Fighting Irish on December 21st. 

How did Notre Dame jump in front so quickly? Effort. 

It involved visits from then Irish tight end coach Gerad Parker, who is now offensive coordinator, and receivers coach Chansi Stuckey before he even stepped foot on Notre Dame’s campus. 

“By the end of it I narrowed it down to UCLA and here,” Smith explained. “I think the biggest thing I had Coach (Gerad) Parker come in home and come visit with me. We had a great talk, sat there for probably an hour and a half. It was me, my fiancée and him, so it was a real tight, intimate thing. 

“A few days later, I had Coach (Chansi Stuckey) Stuck come down and visit me for breakfast. So, just kind of starting that connection, and I could just feel it coming and building up. They got me here on a visit. I'm not going to lie. It snowed every day I was here. But I mean, I came from Virginia Tech, where snow and cold is not something that was scaring me away.

“But coming up here and just seeing all the tradition, being in the stadium and it's just like it hit me, and I committed on the spot. So then ever since I committed and got here, it's just been a blessing, an amazing journey.” 

That journey will continue with quarterback Sam Hartman, who also made the decision to grad transfer to Notre Dame a few weeks after Smith officially signed.

The two have had a relationship dating back to around 2017 as Smith committed to Wake Forest before flipping his commitment to Virginia Tech a few months later. 

Kaleb Smith
Sam Hartman and Kaleb Smith as Wake Forest commits

“We were both committed to Wake Forest in the same recruiting class,” said Smith. “We have a pretty good relationship. His high school coach and my dad were college teammates at the University of Richmond, so I followed his story way before the Wake Forest connection happened.

“When I found out he was coming here, a phone number is still a phone number, so I gave him a call. We talked about how it has come full circle. We were going to start this college journey together and now we’re going to end it at the same place.” 

While both players took different paths, it’s hard to argue about the success each has had. Hartman enters this season as the ACC leader in all-time touchdown passes, while Smith has recorded 74 receptions for 1,143 yards and seven scores in four seasons with the Hokies. 

Now, Hartman and Smith are veterans in a new atmosphere and both have leaned on each other to adjust to life at Notre Dame. 

“It’s kind of crazy,” said Hartman. “I remember when he texted when it was all official. I was like holy cow. There was a lot of crossover with our tape in the ACC. We watched him play and especially this past year. I don't know if it was destiny, but he caught my eye a couple times. He has natural hands and a really good knack for tracking the ball, especially over the shoulder. 

“It was somewhat of a familiar face. When we were learning the ropes and touring the campus, it was cool to have somebody who was in your shoes.” 

The other reunion for Smith will be to have offensive line coach Joe Rudolph in The Gug moving forward. Both spent 2022 together in Blacksburg and despite not working directly with each other, it’s clear there is great respect between Rudolph and Smith. 

“As a non-offensive line player, he was probably my favorite guy to interact with in the building at Virginia Tech. He always has a smile on his face and will always bring you out of whatever mood you’re in. Once you hit the field, you really see Coach Rudolph. He’s the real deal. 

“Looking in, I was like that coach is hard on you. All the offensive linemen always loved him and had the most respect for him. When I found out he was coming here, I was so excited. The first day he got here, he came into our workout. I ran over there and gave him a huge and said I’m glad you’re here.” 

And while it was just a year together, Rudolph was quickly impressed as Smith provided downfield playmaking for the Hokies offense. 

“Kaleb is probably one of the best guys I’ve seen in a one-on-one situations go up and make plays on the ball and contested catches,” stated Rudolph. “He made quite a few of those big plays for us at Virginia Tech. That stands out in a big way.” 

All in all, college football is a weird sport as decisions lead in different directions to end up in the same place years later.

“Ultimately, I wouldn't take back my decision that I made to decommit from Wake and go to Virginia Tech,” said Smith. “I grew a lot. I met my fiancée there, which is kind of like man, this is what I could have had. But at the same time, I feel like it came around full circle and we're right where we're supposed to be.” 

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