Skip to content

Jaylon Smith rebuffs Michigan’s late push

Feb 1, 2013, 8:45 PM EDT

Indianapolis Star Indianapolis Star

Current Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has a special place carved out for him in Notre Dame football’s history books. The coaching lifer spent eight years in South Bend, coordinating the defense for Bob Davie, then staying on staff through the transition to Tyrone Willingham, a rare holdover in the house-cleaning that happened after the 2001 season.

Mattison conceded his title of defensive coordinator to Kent Baer, sliding back to defensive line coach. While he did his best to run the Irish recruiting efforts, he helped land a blue-chip recruiting class filled with NFL talent after Willingham’s sparkling first year, before efforts slipped precipitously the next two seasons.

Mattison’s years in South Bend were good ones. His daughter Lisa graduated from Notre Dame, starring for the softball team. But Charlie Weis was hired, Mattison was quickly snatched up by Urban Meyer, joining the Gators staff as the co-defensive coordinator. And from that day forward, he’s been a thorn in the Irish’s side.

Mattison and Meyer went head-to-head with Weis and his staff for multiple players, winning more often than they didn’t. Many accused the former Irish assistants of using negative tactics when dealing with their former stomping grounds, utilizing their first hand knowledge of life under the Golden Dome to swing blue-chip recruits like Omar Hunter and Justin Trattou, becoming a perpetual thrown in Notre Dame’s side ever since both town.

Mattison left the college ranks for three years, coaching linebackers then coordinating John Harbaugh’s Ravens defense. But when Brady Hoke took the Michigan head coaching job, his first call was to his old friend, who returned to the college game and picked up recruiting just where he left off.

That meant going head-to-head with Notre Dame again. And while Mattison has been a worthy adversary coordinating the Wolverines upstart defense, he also hasn’t stopped trying to chase down Irish recruits, something that’s more than fair in today’s cut-throat recruiting world.

But in the case of Jaylon Smith, it didn’t matter.

The Irish’s signature recruit heard the persuasive recruiting pitch Mattison delivered in the days where Brian Kelly considered the Philadelphia Eagles job, but rebuffed the Wolverines and their defensive coordinator all the same.

Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press has more:

When news broke shortly after the BCS title game that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly was interviewing with the Philadelphia Eagles, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison took a little trip to Indiana.

He wanted Ft. Wayne Bishop Luers linebacker and Notre Dame commitment Jaylon Smith to know he had options.

“He told me there was still a spot at Michigan for me if anything changed,” Smith said. “I appreciated that, but nothing was going to change. The Golden Dome isn’t going anywhere.”

***

When Mattison visited with Smith on Jan. 11 — four days after Alabama thumped Notre Dame in the BCS title game, three days after Kelly talked with the Eagles and one day before he turned them down — he was more than impressed, according to Bishop Luers athletic director Jim Huth.

“After the meeting, Mattison came out of the room and just looked at me,” Huth recalled, “and he said, ‘That kid is the real deal. I have talked with hundreds of players in my career and never had a conversation like that.’ ”

Smith wasn’t just a participant in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, he was a captain for the West team. That game also showed his versatility as a player when he put his hand on the ground and attacked as a defensive end.

“And then he can cover like a cornerback,” said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest analyst for Rivals.com, which ranks Smith the No. 3 overall player in the nation. “That’s a freakish athlete. The guy runs a 4.4 40 (yard-dash). He may be the most athletic linebacker I’ve covered in 10 years of doing this. He’s that special.”

For Notre Dame fans looking for a new favorite player, Smith enters the race with a pretty good tagline: “The Golden Dome isn’t going anywhere.”

On the field, Smith is the most highly touted recruit to come to campus since Jimmy Clausen. He’s ranked higher than any defensive player Notre Dame has signed in the recruiting era (Manti Te’o included) and while Smith is slotted to play behind Prince Shembo at the ‘Cat’ linebacker position, there seems little doubt that Smith will find his way onto the field, because there doesn’t look like much that the five-star outside linebacker can’t do when he’s on it.

Smith runs like a cornerback, blitzes like the quickest of edge rushers and even carried the offensive load for his high school team as their running back. In the US Army All-American Bowl workouts and game, he seemed a notch above the rest of the athletes in attendance. While he’ll need to add weight to a frame that carries around 215 pounds, he’s neck in neck with Stephon Tuitt for freakiest athlete on the Irish defense from the day he steps onto campus.

And he’s still carrying a job at the local Burger King in Fort Wayne.

While most of the focus of these final days of recruiting is on the unknowns, there’s no reason to look past a once-in-a-decade recruit like Smith. It might be easy to now, but come September, it will likely be impossible.

***

Photo property of the Indianapolis Star.

Latest Posts
  1. Video Roundup from Spring Practice

    Mar 28, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly, Malik Zaire Brian Kelly, Malik Zaire

    With Brian Kelly hosting his annual coaches clinic, Notre Dame’s practice field is filled with high school coaches (and some intriguing recruits) taking a look under the hood of the Irish program.

  2. Spring Mailbag: Tillery, Optimism, and practice updates

    Mar 27, 2015, 1:57 PM EDT

    247Sports.com 247Sports.com

    Let’s get to part one of the mailbag. Some very good questions here, so check back over the weekend as there’ll be more to come.

  3. Bars and Nelson impressing at left guard

    Mar 26, 2015, 1:37 PM EDT

    Quenton Nelson

    Matt Hegarty’s unexpected departure opened up a job along the offensive line. With fifth-year center Nick Martin back in the middle, Hegarty choosing to go somewhere else to play center opened up the competition at left guard.

  4. Expectations for Jerry Tillery sky high

    Mar 25, 2015, 1:17 PM EDT

    247Sports.com 247Sports.com

    Jerry Tillery’s recruitment was anything but ordinary. Long committed to the Irish, Notre Dame held off LSU, with Les Miles and the Tigers’ coaching staff doing everything they could to talk the local product into staying home.

  5. Spring practice mailbag: Now Open

    Mar 25, 2015, 10:50 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    Drop your questions below. Or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  6. After injury detour, Jarrett Grace looks to be back on track

    Mar 24, 2015, 7:04 PM EDT

    Temple v Notre Dame Getty Images

    While our inside looks at Notre Dame’s spring practice have been few and far between (blink and you could miss the footage from the YouTube practice reports), the little news that’s been coming out of the Gug has been good.

  7. Elston ready to make his mark on Notre Dame recruiting

    Mar 23, 2015, 3:26 PM EDT

    USA Today USA Today

    Notre Dame landed three recruiting commitments coming out of the weekend’s Junior Day. And if it’s up to Mike Elston, there’ll be plenty more where that came from.

  8. Running back Tony Jones Jr. commits to Irish

    Mar 22, 2015, 3:23 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    This weekend’s Junior Day netted another recruit, with Notre Dame’s coaching staff accepting the commitment of Florida running back Tony Jones Jr. The IMG Academy runner was in South Bend this weekend, and is the first running back in the fold for the Irish in the 2016 class.

  9. Junior Day nets commitments from Julian Love, John Shannon

    Mar 21, 2015, 8:37 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    Notre Dame’s 2016 recruiting class took a big step forward on Saturday, gaining commitments from cornerback Julian Love and long snapper John Shannon. Both Love and Shannon pledged their commitment after receiving offers this afternoon from the Irish staff.

  10. 2016 recruiting begins with weekend Junior Day

    Mar 20, 2015, 1:41 PM EDT

    Rivals Rivals

    Notre Dame’s coaching staff begins their 2016 recruiting efforts this weekend with its first on-campus Junior Day. While the reshuffled staff had an opportunity to hit the road in February, the Irish coaches will host their first major recruiting event of the spring this weekend.

  11. Jeff Quinn officially joins staff as offensive analyst

    Mar 19, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Jeff Quinn Jeff Quinn

    When Notre Dame announced Brian Kelly’s reshuffled coaching staff, one name many expected to be part of the release wasn’t. Former Buffalo head coach Jeff Quinn—an offensive coordinator and line coach for Kelly for decades—had been long rumored for a staff position, but wasn’t part of Kelly’s reshuffled team of assistants.

  12. Two different roads to return for Russell and Williams

    Mar 19, 2015, 11:22 AM EDT

    Notre Dame at USC AP

    As Brian Kelly kicked off spring practice with his press conference Tuesday, he gave a long-awaited update on exiled players KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams.

  13. Video Roundup: Spring Practice Begins

    Mar 18, 2015, 1:55 PM EDT

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    Notre Dame kicked off spring practice bright and early Wednesday morning. With our first look at the Irish as they prepare for the 2015 season, Brian Kelly’s troops were ready for action, even if they were relegated to helmets and shorts.

  14. Irish open spring: Five quick updates from BK

    Mar 17, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With Irish eyes already smiling thanks to St. Patrick’s Day, Notre Dame fans got a free double-down with Brian Kelly’s opening press conference before spring practice starts tomorrow.

  15. Notre Dame, Ball State set to meet in 2018

    Mar 16, 2015, 4:27 PM EDT

    Pete Lembo Pete Lembo

    It looks as if another piece of Notre Dame’s non-ACC football scheduling has come into place. Ball State has announced an agreement to play at Notre Dame Stadium in early September of 2018, likely locking in the Irish’s second opponent of the season.

  16. The road to a successful 2015 season is just getting started

    Mar 16, 2015, 2:37 PM EDT

    USA TODAY Sports USA TODAY Sports

    After Notre Dame’s men won an improbable ACC basketball title, the team and their head coach did little to shy away from their difficulties in the NCAA tournament.

    #NotDoneYet adorns every tweet coming from the team’s official account, and likely serves as a mantra for a team that’s shown flashes of brilliance during regular seasons past, but too often became pumpkins in mid-March.

  17. Notre Dame Mailbag: It’s all about the Quarterbacks

    Mar 13, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT

    Everett Golson

    One question, asked a half-dozen different ways. And it’s all about the quarterbacks.

  18. Mailbag: Now Open

    Mar 12, 2015, 11:10 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    With spring practice beginning next week, let’s open up the mailbag.

  19. Tracking fifth-year spots and the bumpy road to 85 scholarships

    Mar 11, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT

    Jarrett Grace Jarrett Grace

    With Notre Dame on break, the campus is quiet one week before spring practice gets started. But the work inside the Gug is still likely underway, with recruiting efforts for the 2016 cycle pushing forward and discussions about the 2015 roster taking center stage.

  20. No change to CFB Playoff a good thing for Notre Dame

    Mar 10, 2015, 2:53 PM EDT

    Jack Swarbrick

    The only reviews of the College Football Playoff that matter are in. And after one year and a whole lot of excitement and unpredictability, don’t expect to see any changes coming soon.