NOTRE DAME (AP) -

Notre Dame will be counting on former walk-on Joe Schmidt to help make sure its young defensive players are in the right spots when the 17th-ranked Fighting Irish face Rice on Saturday.

The 6-foot, 235-pound senior from Orange, California, earned a scholarship before the start of last season is now the starting middle linebacker for the Irish. First-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder describes Schmidt as one of the smartest players he's been around.

But Schmidt doesn't believe he's made it because he's Notre Dame's starting middle linebacker. Schmidt says he doesn't ever want to feel like he's made it, saying he wants to attack every day and every practice.