FRISCO, Texas -- On Jan. 1, 2016, Jaylon Smith's life changed inside University of Phoenix Stadium when he suffered torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments and nerve damage in his left knee during Notre Dame's Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State.
For Smith, there is no mental hurdle to clear about revisiting the stadium.
"None whatsoever," Smith said. "From the start, God got me. You know what I mean? So I don't go out there worrying about anything of that nature."
Smith suffered the injury with eight minutes to play in the first quarter when he was shoved from behind by an Ohio State offensive lineman and his foot stuck awkwardly in the ground. As Smith was getting examined on the field, Buckeyes star Ezekiel Elliott came over to him.
Smith and Elliott were teammates in a high school all-star game as seniors.
"It meant a lot, just the everlasting love, a brotherly love that we've had for each other since our high school days," Smith said. "To have that opportunity to play against each other, it was great. And I went down and he came over and he basically just told me that he was with me, and now we're teammates [in Dallas] and all is well."
Smith did not play last season as a rookie as he continued to rehab his knee and wait for the nerve to regenerate. With Anthony Hitchens out with a knee injury, Smith started the first two games at middle linebacker this season and leads the Cowboys in tackles with 23, according to the coaches' breakdown.
"It can definitely be better," Smith said. "I have extreme high expectations for myself and my play and I want to be perfect. I strive for perfection, so you know, [I'm] really looking forward to playing against the Cardinals Monday night."