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Freshman Focus: Jaylon Smith

Jul 28, 2013, 1:33 PM EDT

Indianapolis Star Indianapolis Star

The crown jewel of the Irish recruiting class, Jaylon Smith begins his Notre Dame career as the school’s highest ranked defensive prospect in the modern recruiting era. The top high school linebacker in the country, Smith is an all-everything recruit, a headliner on every All-American team, and a prospect coveted by schools coast to coast.

After guiding his Bishop Luers high school team to four straight state titles, Smith exits his Indiana high school football career one of the most decorated players the state has ever seen. Starring as both a running back and linebacker, Smith will now focus on playing defense for the Irish, where his elite athletic ability and explosiveness give Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco a defender unlike any they’ve previously had. While it’s a big jump from small-school Indiana football, Smith walks onto campus expected to be one of the future stars of college football, a hype that often times is tough to match.

Let’s take a closer look at Jaylon Smith.


A consensus top-five player in the country, Smith was universally viewed as the top outside linebacker in the country. With offers from just about every elite program in the country, Smith picked Notre Dame over Ohio State, where his brother plays for Urban Meyer.

The Butkus Award winner at the high school level, Smith was a Parade All-American, first team USA Today All-American, and Indiana’s Mr. Football. He was team captain for the West squad at the US Army All-American Bowl. Put simply, there’s no better prospect on paper than Smith.


Expect to see Smith on the field early and often. Where might be the only real question, with Danny Spond firmly entrenched at the Dog linebacker position and Prince Shembo one of the top Cat linebackers in the country. That said, Smith brings something to the outside linebacker depth chart that nobody else can – an elite athletic profile that isn’t often seen.

On the summer camp circuit, Smith hopped from position to position, dominating drills as a wide receiver, running back, defensive end, linebacker or cover corner. While he’ll need to add bulk and get used to the physicality demanded in Diaco’s defense, he’s the type of athlete that the coaching staff will find a way to get on the field.

With the Irish finally having the personnel to utilize nickel and dime packages, expect Smith to be featured in specialty groupings, either using his speed in coverage or coming off the edge as a pass rusher.


The sky is the limit for Smith. Athletically, he has few equals. And as the Irish’s standout ’13 recruiting class was coming together, Smith showed himself to be the type of leader that gets Kelly and his staff more than excited.

“The thing that’s most impressive is the character of this young man and his energy,” Kelly said of Smith on Signing Day. “He just has it. When he walks into a room, the room kind of lightens up, and that’s the kind of personality that he is, and he is one tough football player, as well.”

Smith will grow into that leadership role, with the Irish filled with quality upperclassmen ready to handle those responsibilities. The same can be said for his role on the field. With Spond entering his senior season, there’s no need to force Smith to be the type of every down player you’d expect out of a recruit in a similar stratosphere. But finding where to play Smith will be the biggest challenge for this staff, and will likely be dictated by Smith’s development in the weight room.

Right now, you could make an argument for Smith playing a handful of different positions on both sides of the ball. But after watching Anthony Barr turn into one of the most dangerous edge players in the game, you can expect to see Smith develop in the same way. And that should have Irish fans very excited.


  1. 25kgold - Jul 28, 2013 at 2:26 PM

    Will he be the best LB in Irish history? I think he makes an early impact on the team and season!

  2. simmel65 - Jul 28, 2013 at 2:36 PM

    Not sure if he will be the best LB in Irish history with Teo finishing 2nd in the Heisman vote, but he will be a stud. We are really blessed to get a guy with his ability, and who loves and promotes the univeristy.

    Just think that a guy like this is going to play special teams as well. The overall talent level is so much higher now in Kelly’s 4th year.


  3. 11thstreetmafia - Jul 28, 2013 at 3:11 PM

    Don’t forget about Bob Crable. USC, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, etc. hasn’t forgotten him.

  4. fnc111 - Jul 28, 2013 at 3:58 PM

    If anyone but Kelly was coaching ND this kid would be a stud. Sadly Kelly will bench Jaylon in the second game of the year because he isn’t allowed to bury Meatchicken. Wife rules.

    • danirish - Jul 29, 2013 at 8:48 AM

      And you wonder why I picked on you….

    • 1historian - Jul 29, 2013 at 11:48 AM

      go to your room

  5. fnc111 - Jul 28, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    If Weis couldve signed Barr and clueless Kelly would’ve recruited a real QB like Kevin Hogan, this team would go 12-0 this season.

    • dmac4real - Jul 28, 2013 at 4:43 PM

      Hogan and Golson had extremely similar stats last year, with Golson being younger.

      Kelly recruited Barr, and told him he wanted him at LB. Barr wanted to be a RB so he picked UCLA.

      We went 12-0 last season.

      If youre going to hate on Kelly, at least find solid reasons.

  6. audiguy - Jul 28, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    This kid will be a great player and leader. If not for Kelly he is at OSU. What is wrong with these twits that keep putting down Kelly. The record and talent speaks for itself.

  7. onward2victory - Jul 28, 2013 at 8:17 PM


  8. mediocrebob - Jul 28, 2013 at 8:57 PM

    Haha FNC is a moron. Every time he tries to put Kelly down someone makes him feel dumb soon after.

    Anyways, excited to see J. Smith in blue and gold. Seems like a good kid. And if he gets his gf pregnant, he’s already home so he won’t have to leave!

    Go Irish.

  9. rayguy14 - Jul 28, 2013 at 10:53 PM

    I hear the small-school comment a lot regarding his level of competition in high school. Playing in the 2nd most densely populated area in Indiana, Smith played against some of the best players in the state. Teams like FW Snider and Bishop Dwenger are consistently putting out FBS talent and Luers can more than hold their own against each. Luers might be a small-school but they are the smallest school in the Summit Athletic Conference and play one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the state every year. It’s not like this guy was going up against tiny farm schools week in week out (at least not until sectional). Just some perspective.

    • nddude - Jul 30, 2013 at 10:19 AM

      Snider blew out Luers last year, and Smith looked rather ordinary in the game, on both sides of the ball

      • rayguy14 - Aug 2, 2013 at 3:03 PM

        Well I don’t want to get into a whole thing here but Snider won 10-7 last season after losing to Luers the previous two years. I think you’re right about Smith’s play in the game however.

  10. jerseyshorendfan1 - Jul 29, 2013 at 12:23 AM

    Love the Freshman Focus articles. I had really forgotten what a great haul this class was. After last week’s heat wave here, I’m ready for a little chill in the air and getting pumped for this season. I’m going to say 11-1 and a BCS bowl.

    • Keith Arnold - Jul 30, 2013 at 11:50 AM

      Woah! What a prediction, by Art/Jersey no less. What next, Nude getting excited about Rees solidifying his place in the ND passing record book?

      It’s hard not to be excited about this team right now, and walking through these freshmen remind you that while one big guy got away, but the guys that are on campus.

      I’m not in the prediction game, but if there’s a silver lining in both the BCS drubbing and Golson’s departure, it’s that the Irish can fly under the radar a bit.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jul 30, 2013 at 12:21 PM

        I didn’t want to be so bold as to say 12-0. I do think every opponent on the schedule this year is beatable, I’m really worried about Stanford though. They’ll really be gunning for us after last year and they are probably going to be a better team than they were. So, I had to temper my exuberance to 11-1. Besides, it’s just really difficult to win them all and you really need to be the recipient of a lot of good breaks (which was unbelievably the case last year……I remember posting early in the season using words like magical season and destiny). Odds are that won’t happen again. I’m sure we’ll get our share of bad calls, turnovers and the like (actually this started happening in the NCG) but I think we stack up well against everybody we’re playing. How UM can be an early favorite I don’t know as I think we are the better team with deeper talent at the skill positions and they have as many questions on offense as we do. I have seen some 7-5 predictions out there and frankly, i just don’t see it unless there is some major collapse or a slew of injuries. Keith, you’ve been doing a great job all offseason to nurse my football hangover. Can’t wait for the first live chat!

      • irishpuma - Jul 31, 2013 at 12:25 AM

        Keith props for giving me my fix all year long! I am too old to detox. Great Freshman articles and I can’t wait for the Golden Army Bios for 2014 or sooner!

        What’s your prediction? I don’t see how we can do better than 9-3 and 8-4 seems fair too. Sorry Nude and Bern turned me to the dark side (anti TR) I hope I am way off base of course.

        Keep up the good work, we all appreciate it. Thanks.

  11. yaketyyacc - Jul 29, 2013 at 3:11 AM

    another fine player, adding to a dynamite defense and offense. BUT, giving the team, Rees as quarterback, is like White Star giving Capt. Smith the Titanic.

    • 1historian - Jul 29, 2013 at 11:58 AM

      Rees is 2 years older, he is 2 years smarter, he is a senior and has the respect of the entire team, the running game has some serious – though young – talent, we’ve got some good young WRs, I would bet that at least one of the TEs will show up to play, the OL is much better and deeper than 2 years ago, Kelly is a much better coach than he was 2 years ago and will have built an offense around Rees – that’s why he named him starting QB when he did, etc.

      I think we’ll be fine, I think Rees will do fine, ergo I give your remark a thumbs down.

      • irishpuma - Jul 29, 2013 at 1:40 PM

        Historian the only thing you mentioned that is 100% true is he is two years older. There is nothing to suggest he is any smarter. Young RB’s need holes to hit and while I agree the line would appear to be better the opposing schemes are going to be to run stuff so that should be interesting.

        The offense that sort of worked was built around Golson. A build around Rees will be BYU style resutls. As for going out on a limb and saying we will be fine what does that mean? 8-4 9-3 is that fine? Do you think we could not go 8-4 with Zaire?

        Regardless at ND the goal is not to be fine but to be champions.

      • bernhtp - Jul 29, 2013 at 6:33 PM

        How many years smarter and better is he than BYU, the one complete game Rees played last year?

      • nudeman - Jul 30, 2013 at 11:40 AM

        A few observations:
        1. Even in a thread about Jaylon Smith, the talk turns to Tommy
        2. Nothing better for Keith’s business than a thread with “Rees” in the subject line
        3. I scored the fight the other day as a TKO for bern and puma. They have facts, figures and logic.
        4. By comparison, all the Rees apologists have is hope and dreams.
        5. If anyone disagrees, see bern’s comment here re: BYU. Deadly as a drone strike.

      • irishpuma - Jul 31, 2013 at 12:27 AM

        Nude you killed it twitter style low word count right to the point. Love it brother.

  12. danirish - Jul 29, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    I don’t know about the rest of you but:



    • irishpuma - Jul 29, 2013 at 1:36 PM

      Danny boy finally a post I can agree with 100%.

  13. schuey73 - Jul 29, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    I was on campus this past weekend and saw Jaylon. Believe me, he’s been in the weight room. He has to be at least 240 by now. He could have easily been mistaken for a TE. He’s gonna be an absolute monster!

  14. ndadvocate - Jul 29, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    I saw him back in May and he was pretty skinny. He must have put in some serious time these last couple of months!

    • dudeacow - Jul 29, 2013 at 11:31 AM

      His coach said that Jaylon has been a workout addict this offseason and that he has put on close to 20 lbs of pure muscle.

  15. gmenfan1982 - Jul 29, 2013 at 11:57 AM

    DanIrish I couldn’t agree more! I am so pumped for this season. I see some great Irish teams in the not so distant future. Can’t wait to see these top notch recruits make an impact.

  16. 1historian - Jul 29, 2013 at 3:31 PM

    Puma – you are implying that Rees is incapable of fixing the mistakes he made 2 years ago, that the O linemen are not much better than they were and that the incoming running backs can’t MORE than replace these who are gone. I disagree.

    This is Kelly’s 4th season and he is getting better every year.

    I say 10-2 – not NC caliber but getting there. Don’t forget that we last won the whole thing in 1988 with Tony Rice who was not the greatest QB we ever had. And who can name the QB we had in 1993 who was a replacement for Ron Powlus and that year we almost won the whole thing?

    There seems to be a surplus of almost fashionable despair over the fact that Tommy Rees is the starting QB and I just don’t think that’s right.

    Hence – we’ll be fine

    • ibleedirish - Jul 30, 2013 at 10:12 AM

      Let me start by saying i hope Tommy succeeds. But his turnover rate per pass thrown was the same in 2012 as it was in 2011. He showed NO improvement. Yes, he clutch and we were fortunate to have him. But when playing for large chunks of time (UM/BYU) he was totally ineffective, and continued turning the ball over. Why don’t you see this? An offense with him at the helm looks like : Punt, Punt, Punt, Turnover, Punt, TD, Punt, Turnover. Its not good enough, and we have recent results to prove it. Stop talking about 2011.

      • wisner74 - Jul 30, 2013 at 11:14 PM

        He was mostly getting second team reps in practice last fall, and that was in an offense not tailored to his skills. No one is saying he’s headed to the hall of fame, but this is the first year that he is the designated starter, and the offense will be tailored for his strengths and his weaknesses, not Golson’s not Crist’s.

        Football is not a sport designed for relief pitchers. If your #2 guy has to come into the game, it’s usually bad news. The anti-Rees crowd is simply not being fair. In ’11 he was a sophomore playing like sophomore, and in ’12 he mostly was coming in in relief, getting second-team reps in an offense designed for Golson, not him.

        If you guys don’t stop talking about BYU, I’m going to go back to Michigan in ’11, or Pittsburgh for that matter.

        He will certainly not be the strength of this team, but give the kid his due.

      • ibleedirish - Aug 1, 2013 at 10:06 AM

        I can only assume you haven’t seen the BYU game we are speaking relentlessly of. The offense ND ran that day was absolutely tailored to Rees. And guess what? It sucked. It is simply a perfect illustration of what happens when Rees meets a marginally capable defense. Eight-nine in the box on running downs, drop 8 on passing downs. Easy stuff unfortunately.

    • wisner74 - Jul 30, 2013 at 10:58 PM

      1historian – There’s no getting around the echo-chamber:

      REES, REEs, REes, Rees, rees
      SUCKS, SUCKs, SUCks, SUcks, Sucks.

      These guys are implacable.

      • irishpuma - Jul 31, 2013 at 12:56 AM

        No more of an echo than the “give the kid his due.”

        What exactly is he due? Expulsion, jail time, scholarship loss? You can try to attack a cop and run away and be fine but if you get help with a paper you are kicked out. How is that fair? Settle down teasing.

        Ok so his due on the field?? lifetime negative TD to Turnover ratio?Some of the worst losses in the history of ND, Navy,Tulsa,South Florida. 6 yards per attempt….and there is BYU, Pitt, wake etc.

        His due is that I will root for him in 4 weeks and see what happens. He is owed nothing in my mind he owes ND for standing byhim and hopefully that pays off!!!

        Off the field He is going to graduate with a Degree from ND and that is an accomplishment and I will give him his due for that and for being a good team guy. You happy wise?

  17. mcirish27 - Jul 29, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    Anyone on this board SHOULD be able to name Kevin McDougal….right?

    • 1historian - Aug 9, 2013 at 11:38 AM

      Yes but you were the only one who did. I remembered his name, I just wondered if anyone else did.

  18. irishpuma - Jul 29, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    Too simplistic Historian…I said the O line appears to be better but we need to see it on the field, I think Amir, GA3, Folston and Bryant are way better than cierre and Theo. Apparently you are not capable or do not want to address higher thinking than fantasy stats or this name is better than that. What I am saying is they may have a hard time running if REES can not establish a downfield threat. The biggest baddest front 5 in the history of football can not fair very well against 8 -10 in the box and no running back can run without holes.

    Ok now for your other two NC type years both those QBS had better arms and much faster feet than good ol Tommy boy so again I do not understand your comparison. And diminishing T rice is absurd he was a college beast just because he was not a pure passer but a great runner???? Makes no sense. He ran for almost 2k yards and threw for 3k yards with 23 tds on the ground. HIs average per attempt was 8.3 -2 yards more than TR. Any way that is how you win if you are not a great passer you better bring other things to the table such as rushing.

    McDougal had a 151 passer rating for the 93 season with 4 tds on the ground and 10yrd per attempt avg. Again things TR has not shown he can do.

    To buy into your argument I would have to believe that tommy excels at some part of this game. He is not a good passer…accurate around the line of scrimmage yes, He can not move, no rush, game manager no….timeouts and turnovers in bunches. Coverage reader maybe but he can’t get it there even if he sees it. Cool and collected….borderline, not when the pocket breaks… coming off the bench to throw to selected spots with no reads yes.

    Can he change and be better sure. I just don’t think good enough and he has been lodged against his ceiling the whole time.

    Oh well a few weeks left and these arguments will be moot and I hope I am wrong. 10-2 would be a great season I agree let’s see if Tommy can get us there.

    • wisner74 - Jul 30, 2013 at 11:05 PM

      I think that Riddick will prove to be harder to replace than you guys are admitting. He was a fine, versatile running back. Maybe Carlisle can do it if he stays healthy, or one of the freshmen. I don’t see it in Atkinson for all of his speed, and for as much as I like McDaniel, he does quite have Theo’s all-around talent.

      I do think that the O-LIne will be better overall, but let’s remember that we still have a major question-mark at center. Did Stockton look so good in the B/G game because he had actually improved or because he was playing across from a complete newby at center (N. Martin)?

    • 1historian - Aug 9, 2013 at 11:46 AM

      NC type QBs – my point was and remains – who thought that they could do what they did until they did it?

      Rees’ drawbacks – well documented.

      In his favor – he’s 2 years older, reports from the 1st few days of camp say that he is faster and stronger, and Kelly and his offensive people have had 3 months to build an offense around his talents. I’m not saying that he’s the most talented of the 3 there, but for now he IS the starter.

      My problem is the number of people who seem to assume that he can’t get any better than he was 2 or 3 years ago.

  19. irishpuma - Jul 29, 2013 at 5:15 PM

    He is without a doubt extremely lucky. to be where he is with his skill set, off field stuff, and to be allowed to still be at the University. Now he is being handed the keys to the ferrari lets hope he does not wreck it.

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