Notre Dame Football: 10 Things to Know About Jaylon Smith
Between the start of the 2011 season and national singing day in February, with Notre Dame football, when it rained, it poured. A turnover led to more turnovers. A blown coverage led to more blown coverages. Decommitments led to more decommitments.
A head-scratching six months finally came to a close in late February when Scottsdale, Ariz., wide receiver Davonte Neal signed with the Irish after an announcement day that resembled something straight out of Hollywood. Since then, it's been mostly positives in South Bend.
Granted, no games have been played, but Notre Dame fans are staring at a top-10 and potentially a top-five recruiting class in 2013.
The headliner of the class by a wide stretch is linebacker Jaylon Smith from Fort Wayne, Ind. He pledged his name to the Fighting Irish on June 2, becoming the 13th of Notre Dame's 14 current commitments.
Here are 10 things to know about the prized jewel of the 2013 class.
Follow me on Twitter - @MattSmithCFB
Ideal Dog Linebacker
Smith will fit best at the position that is one of the biggest concerns for the Irish in the 2012 season: Dog linebacker. Unfortunately for defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, Smith won't arrive in South Bend for another season.
The Dog position requires a unique skill set to move both forwards and backwards and excel as both a pass-rusher and run-stopper as well as in coverage. It's also the most cerebral position on the defensive side of the ball.
Smith's freakish athleticism and high football IQ make him a perfect Dog linebacker.
Can Also Play Inside Linebacker
The Notre Dame coaching staff knows it not only landed a great player, but a versatile one on top of that. Smith is almost certain to begin his career at Dog linebacker, but should a greater need develop, the coaches would not hesitate to play him at one of the inside positions.
The inside linebacker positions take a big hit next year with the departure of Manti Te'o, but sophomore Jarrett Grace is likely to take over at the critical MIKE linebacker position in 2013.
There's no ideal Dog linebacker on the depth chart, so it's hard to foresee Smith shifting from there, but his wide array of skills will at least give the coaches that option.
U.S. Army All-American
One of the first and arguably the most notable high school all-star games is the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, held on the first Saturday of January in San Antonio, Tex., and broadcast nationally on NBC. Current Notre Dame players who participated in the previous game include Elijah Shumate, Christian Lombard, Chris Watt, Cierre Wood and Zeke Motta.
Smith has excelled at multiple camps over the past few seasons against some of the best high school players in the country, so a strong performance in San Antonio wouldn't come as a surprise. However, it will be the first chance for most Notre Dame fans to see Smith play on live television.
Two-Way High School Player
As is the case with many high school stars, Smith plays both offense and defense at Bishop Luers High in Fort Wayne. When he's not making tackles and intercepting passes, Smith plays running back for the Knights.
While he's not projected as a college running back, his experience with the ball in his hands can only be a positive. If Smith develops into the kind of linebacker that most expect him to be, he'll have the ball in his possession multiple times per season.
Three-Time State Champion
Bishop Luers is a powerhouse program in the Hoosier State. The Knights have won 14 state titles, including in each of the past three seasons. While Smith played a large role on those teams, the program excelled long before Smith was a member of it.
A winning pedigree is certainly an asset for a young player. Smith could close his high school career a perfect 4-for-4 should the Knights bring home another title this fall. It won't come so easy for Smith in college, but the tastes of greatness he's experiencing in high school should pay dividends down the road.
Highest-Ranked Recruit Since Jimmy Clausen
Smith is currently ranked No. 4 by Rivals.com among high school players in the 2013 class. You have to go back six years to 2007 to find a Notre Dame signee rated higher, when quarterback Jimmy Clausen was rated No. 1 by Rivals.com
Of course, a high ranking by recruiting analysts doesn't always translate into individual and team success at the next level. While Clausen's numbers were impressive with the Irish, particularly in 2009, the Irish went just 16-21 in his three seasons.
Brian Kelly's Fourth 5-Star Recruit
Like Stephon Tuitt, Ishaq Williams and Gunner Kiel before him, Smith is a 5-star recruit by almost every major recruiting outlet. Generally, recruiting analysts hand out less than 20 5-star designations annually, so it's lofty praise for Smith (although USC has three 5-star commitments in the 2013 class alone).
It should be noted that three of Kelly's 5-star recruits are on the defensive side of the ball. The Charlie Weis era had plenty of skill-position talent, but its lack of elite defenders eventually caused its abrupt ending after the 2009 season.
If Kelly can't achieve success at Notre Dame, it won't be because of defense.
Notre Dame's Track Record in Fort Wayne
One Notre Dame star from Fort Wayne departs (presumably) after this season when tight end Tyler Eifert heads to the NFL, but the Irish will welcome in another potential All-American in Smith from the city just 90 minutes away from campus.
Eifert attended the rival high school of Smith—Bishop Dwenger, graduating in 2009. The two Catholic high schools are on opposite sides of Fort Wayne (Dwenger the north, Luers the south).
Smith's Knights got the better of Dwenger last season, 26-15. In Eifert's final season with the Saints, Dwenger shut out Luers, 14-0, en route to a 14-1 season.
An Active Recruiter
Since his commitment to Notre Dame, Smith has done his part to make sure he surrounds himself with elite talent when he arrives in South Bend. He was on campus last weekend with multiple Irish commits to help woo target Alex Anzalone, a linebacker from Wyomissing, Pa.
He has also frequently taken to Twitter of late to talk to both current and potential commits and encourage them to sign with the Fighting Irish. The recent social media craze has allowed for recruits to keep in close contact while still in high school, allowing Notre Dame to use Smith as an additional recruiter at no cost.
Brother Plays for Ohio State
During the early stages of the recruiting process, one of the primary concerns with Smith (and with tight end commit Mike Heuerman) was that his brother plays for Ohio State, Notre Dame's primary competitor for Smith's services.
Just over a month after Heuerman spurned an opportunity to join his brother in Columbus, Smith did the same with his brother, Rod, a tailback for Urban Meyer's Buckeyes.
The elder Smith is a solid player but does not have the elite talent of his younger brother. Fortunately for Irish fans, their team landed the better of the two Smiths.