Oxnard, CA -- Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith said it felt like being at home, after strapping on full pads and taking the field for the first time in 572 days.
"Great feeling, huge accomplishment being back on the field," he said.
Smith took part in eight plays - 6 runs and two passes - in full team competition and assisted on one tackle. Eight plays doesn't seem like much, but for the former Notre Dame standout, it was a milestone.
"Just a great feeling to be able to unleash contact wise, it was just a great feeling," said Smith.
The positivity is genuine and has helped him navigate the tough road he's been forced to travel.
Smith suffered a devastating injury to his left knee in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 2016, while playing for the Irish.
He tore the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee in a gruesome looking hyperextension, as he jammed his foot into the turf. He also suffered damage to his peroneal nerve.
Once considered a top-five draft choice, his draft stock plummeted because there's no guarantee he will fully heal from the nerve damage.
But Smith absolutely blew away the Cowboys brass during an interview at the combine and the team liked him so much they pushed all their chips into the center of the table and gambled on Smith, making him a second round pick in the 2016 draft.
He's worked tirelessly for the last year pointing toward this day. He says he'll wear a brace while practicing for the foreseeable future.
"It's a custom brace, and for me it's just about playing the game of football," said Smith. "And that's the only thing that's on my mind when I'm out there on the field."
It's not often in the face of awful circumstance you can be at your best, but Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith is proving to be anything but typical.
"It's all a part of the plan everything we've done has been strategic, and for me patience is the key," said Smith. "And I'll continue to keep growing from here."
The Cowboys plan is to proceed with caution giving Smith an off day following his return to full pads. He says the injury has made him a better man and he's learned to have more patience.
"I've trained myself so much to have so much patience that the challenges are minimal," said Smith. "Obviously, everybody wants to play the game, so it's a little challenging, but at the same time, it's understanding what's at stake."