FRISCO, Texas –Jaylon Smith always believed he'd make it back.
Now, nearly two years since a career-threatening knee injury in his final college game, the first-year NFL linebacker has been voted by his teammates as the Cowboys' 2017 Ed Block Courage Award winner.
The award honors NFL players who exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Smith and the league's 31 other recipients will be honored this spring at the 40th Annual Ed Block Courage Awards in Baltimore, Md.
"From Day One, I never doubted myself," Smith said. "I never doubted that I would play the game of football again."
In Notre Dame's 2016 bowl game, Smith suffered nerve damage in his left knee in addition to a torn ACL and MCL. The Cowboys' team physician, Dr. Dan Cooper, performed Smith's surgery, and Dallas selected him in the second round of the 2016 draft with optimism that the top-five prospect would make a full recovery.
After sitting out his rookie season, Smith has appeared in all 14 games (six starts) and produced a team-best 96 tackles (three for loss) along with one sack and two forced fumbles. He has played 59.1 percent of the defensive snaps, the most of any Cowboys linebacker.
With two games left in the regular season, Smith says he feels great. He thanked his teammates for their support throughout his rehab process, as well as the help of the Cowboys' medical and athletic training staff.
"(Head athletic trainer) Jim (Maurer) and (associate athletic trainer/director of rehabilitation) Britt (Brown), I spent most of my time with them each and every day, one-on-one with their undivided attention," Smith said." We really just got back to the basics. Our communication is what helped us excel. If anything was wrong, if anything was going great, the feedback between both parties was tremendous. I treat those guys like my second father the way they took care of me, and it shows."
Maurer said Smith's approach has been terrific since he joined the organization.
"His character and his work ethic is obviously exceptional and he did such a great job," Maurer said.
"He's not real outspoken, but he's always there, always on time, always working, very teachable, very coachable, not just on the field but in the rehab process. He understood the patience he had to have. But every step of the way he worked really hard."