Notre Dame has not been lacking for recruiting drama lately. First it was Deontay Greenberry's last-minute switch from the Irish to Houston on National Signing Day. Three weeks later, it was a day-long circus involving Davonte Neal's no-show for his announcement before eventually singing with Notre Dame hours later. In March, top cornerback recruit Tee Shepard left South Bend after just two months as a Notre Dame student.
It was expected that the recruitment of the top prospect on Notre Dame's Class of 2013 board, Fort Wayne, Ind. linebacker Jaylon Smith, would be the next episode in this ongoing soap opera. That all changed on Saturday, when the No. 4 overall prospect in the nation, according to Rivals.com, verbally committed to Notre Dame after his participation in the RAS Camp in nearby Angola, Ind.
Smith chose the Irish over Ohio State, among others. His brother, Rod, is currently a running back for the Buckeyes. Smith's commitment is the 13th for the Irish in the 2013 class, but the first at linebacker, a critical position in this recruiting cycle after the Irish signed no linebackers in the 2012 class. In addition to his No. 4 ranking by Rivals.com, he is ranked No. 7 overall by 24/7 Sports.
He is the consensus top outside linebacker in the country, and among all linebackers trails only Reuben Foster of Auburn, Ala., a current Alabama commitment. While Manti Te'o and Gunner Kiel rank as the two biggest recruiting wins for Notre Dame over the past few years, Smith's ceiling is the highest of any player to Notre Dame since Jimmy Clausen famously exited a limousine at the College Football Hall of Fame in April 2006 to announce he would sign with the Irish.
While the outcome did not come as a surprise, the timing was a bit shocking. Smith is planning on visiting Notre Dame in two weeks, along with a handful of current 2013 commitments. A decision was thought to potentially come at this time, with Smith having given a soft deadline prior to the start of the season to determine where he would be attending school next fall.
Smith plays both running back and linebacker at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne, but he's an ideal Dog linebacker at Notre Dame. Comparisons to current Irish linebacker Manti Te'o are obvious, given that Te'o was the last 5-star defensive prospect to sign with the Irish. However, Smith is a much different athlete than the current starting middle linebacker.
The 6'3", 218-pound Smith is much faster than Te'o, both in initial burst and at chasing ball-carriers. While not as fundamentally sound as Te'o, which is to be expected for someone four years Te'o's junior, Smith's long arms and freakish athleticism make him much stronger in coverage.
With the slow development of current Dog linebackers Ben Councell and Danny Spond, Smith could have very well started for the Irish this coming season. Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans, it will be 15 months before he plays a real game in an Irish uniform.
Whether or not Smith is a candidate to enroll at Notre Dame at January is uncertain at this time. While overtures from other schools will likely continue, this commitment appears relatively safe, even with National Signing Day more than eight months away.
The Irish would like to land at least three linebackers in this class. Inside linebacker Alex Anzalone of Wyomissing, Pa., who decommitted from Ohio State last month, is expected at Notre Dame for an unofficial visit at the same time as Smith. Anazlone is ranked No. 49 overall by Rivals.com.
Have 5-star recruits turned out to be busts in the past? Absolutely. However, Smith's No. 4 ranking is a good sign for future success. Players recently ranked No. 4 overall by Rivals.com include Julio Jones (Alabama), Ryan Mallett (Michigan/Arkansas) and Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma).
From the beginning, Smith was a must-get for the Irish. Notre Dame rarely has the luxury of elite talent in its own backyard like many national powers, so it was imperative to make sure Smith wouldn't escape the school just 90 minutes from his hometown.
For the time being, it's a success story. It's now up to Smith and the coaching staff to make sure his production matches a level of potential that hasn't been seen of late at Notre Dame.
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