Skip to content

Jaylon Smith rebuffs Michigan’s late push

Feb 1, 2013, 8:45 PM EST

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. Mailbag: Sunday delivery

    Jan 25, 2015, 2:28 PM EST

    Jarrett Grace Jarrett Grace

    A special Sunday delivery of the Mailbag. Let’s get to some questions.

  2. As expected, Eilar Hardy to transfer for fifth year

    Jan 25, 2015, 11:16 AM EST

    Navy v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Safety Eilar Hardy will finish his college football career elsewhere. After four seasons in South Bend, Hardy will earn his Notre Dame degree and be free to play out his eligibility in another program.

  3. Mailbag: Finding the right 85 guys

    Jan 23, 2015, 1:04 PM EST

    Matthias Farley

    With less than two weeks to go before Signing Day, recruiting is the focus for the Irish coaching staff. But as we crack open the mailbag, we cover a bit more ground than the usual will-he or won’t-he that comes along with the first Wednesday in February.

  4. Prentice McKinney flips commitment to UNC

    Jan 22, 2015, 11:32 AM EST

    Rivals Rivals

    One of Notre Dame’s long-time verbal commitments is no longer planning on joining the Irish’s 2015 recruiting class. Texas safety Prentice McKinney took an official visit to North Carolina last weekend and flipped his commitment to Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels on Wednesday, dropping Notre Dame’s recruiting class down to 22 players and just two safeties.

  5. Mailbag: Now Open

    Jan 21, 2015, 9:51 PM EST

    New Mailbox

    Can we follow up last week’s excellence with another solid week of questions? Drop them below or @KeithArnold.

  6. Irish recruiting efforts coming into focus

    Jan 21, 2015, 1:43 PM EST

    ESB

    While the Irish coaching staff traverses the country taking in-home visits, Notre Dame’s staff is close to putting the finishing touches on a stellar recruiting class. The additional of Aliz’e Jones pushes the Irish into a consensus Top 10 class — quite an accomplishment considering this was supposed to be a smaller group.

  7. DaVaris Daniels to enter NFL Draft

    Jan 20, 2015, 12:29 AM EST

    Taylor Richards, DaVaris Daniels Taylor Richards, DaVaris Daniels

    Star-crossed Notre Dame wide receiver DaVaris Daniels’ career with the Irish is over. After two seasons and two significant suspensions, Daniels decided to forgo any additional eligibility he has at the college level and turn professional.

  8. Kelly hits the recruiting trail to bring back Stanley and Day

    Jan 19, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    Notre Dame v Syracuse Notre Dame v Syracuse

    Say this for Brian Kelly. He learns from his mistakes.

    And after losing Stephon Tuitt and Troy Niklas after just three seasons in South Bend, Notre Dame’s head coach made sure he had a final say before Ronnie Stanley and Sheldon Day made their stay-or-go decision.

  9. Keivarae Russell gives update on off-field progress

    Jan 19, 2015, 1:44 PM EST

    Notre Dame at USC AP

    KeiVarae Russell gives a promising update on his future in South Bend via (where else?) social media.

  10. Mailbag: So many questions, so little time

    Jan 16, 2015, 1:04 PM EST

    HO HO

    Lots to discuss in our Friday mailbag. Position changes, 85 scholarships, Reggie Ho and more.

    (Collective thumbs up to all of you.)

  11. Irish land elite TE recruit Alize Jones

    Jan 15, 2015, 2:51 PM EST

    MyLVSports.com MyLVSports.com

    After being committed to UCLA for months, Las Vegas tight end Alize Jones has flipped his pledge to Notre Dame. The bluechip recruit is widely acknowledged to be the best tight end in the country and plays high school football with current Irish commit Nicco Fertitta at Bishop Gorman.

  12. Dead period over, home stretch to recruiting begins

    Jan 15, 2015, 2:19 PM EST

    Arrington Farrar

    The first College Football Playoff is over. And with less than three weeks to go before National Signing Day, the dead period has ended and the home stretch in recruiting has begun.

  13. Mailbag: Now Open

    Jan 14, 2015, 10:45 AM EST

    New Mailbox

    There’s plenty to talk about. Have a question? Drop it below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  14. Ronnie Stanley to return for senior season

    Jan 13, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

    Notre Dame v Syracuse Notre Dame v Syracuse

    Notre Dame junior Ronnie Stanley announced Tuesday that he will return for his senior season, giving the Irish one of the best left tackles in college football for another season. After being projected by some as a first round pick, Stanley made the decision to return for 2015.

  15. What does Ohio State’s championship mean for Notre Dame?

    Jan 13, 2015, 2:36 PM EST

    Kelly Urban Meyer

    It can happen. The right head coach can survive adversity and win a national championship. We saw that Monday night when Urban Meyer’s Ohio State Buckeyes manhandled Oregon on their way to a 42-20 victory.

  16. Coney, Dew-Treadway, Hoge and Tillery officially enrolled

    Jan 12, 2015, 6:55 PM EST

    247Sports.com 247Sports.com

    The first four members of the 2015 recruiting class begin their time at Notre Dame on Tuesday, with classes starting for early-enrollee freshmen Tevon Coney, Micah Dew-Treadway, Tristen Hoge and Jerry Tillery. All four freshmen will take part in winter workouts and spring practice, set to start in early March.

  17. Day’s return first part of 2015 puzzle

    Jan 12, 2015, 11:03 AM EST

    North Carolina v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Over the weekend, Sheldon Day announced he would be returning for his senior season at Notre Dame. The returning captain and the Irish’s best defensive lineman sought a draft grade from the NFL’s advisory board before making the decision.

  18. Kelly’s clear: “Unfinished business” at Notre Dame

    Jan 9, 2015, 1:50 PM EST

    Notre Dame v Arizona State Getty Images

    Brian Kelly is all in. For as many times as you’ll hear his name mentioned for an NFL coaching position, the Irish head coach isn’t going anywhere.

  19. Report: Hanratty undergoing concussion testing

    Jan 8, 2015, 7:54 PM EST

    Property of 247Sports.com Property of 247Sports.com

    Senior Conor Hanratty has a final year of eligibility remaining. But before he explores whether to continue his football career, he’ll undergo medical testing after suffering three concussions in the last calendar year.

  20. Even with competition, Kelly expects Golson to return in 2015

    Jan 8, 2015, 2:33 PM EST

    North Carolina v Notre Dame Getty Images

    As Malik Zaire helped the Irish pull off a critical win in the Music City Bowl, all eyes turned to the quarterback who wasn’t playing. After starting the season’s first 12 games, Everett Golson played a complementary role in the Irish victory, completed some clutch passes down the stretch during Notre Dame’s 31-28 victory.