Jaylon Smith’s star quickly on the rise

36 Comments

There’s a very nice article on freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith running today as the lead story on Sports Illustrated’s college football page. Smith, who came into Notre Dame as the school’s highest rated recruit since Jimmy Clausen, did everything you’d want from a freshman, becoming one of the team’s best defenders as the season went on.

SI.com’s Chris Johnson caught up with Smith’s high school defensive coordinator Matt Millhouse at Bishop Luers, who talked about the elite athleticism that Smith had as a four-time state champion that starred on both sides of the football.

“He was the fastest, if not the second fastest kid on the field every Friday night,” Matt Millhouse, the defensive coordinator at Bishop Luers, said of Smith, who ran a hand-timed 4.4-second 40-yard dash at a recruiting camp in Indianapolis nearly two years ago. “He was a big kid, but he was just so athletic and fast.”

That rare mix helps explain the productivity Smith had this season, even as he learned things on the fly. Set to play behind senior Danny Spond, Smith jumped into the starting lineup and put together the most productive season a Dog/Drop linebacker has had during Brian Kelly’s four seasons.

Looking forward, Smith will be the team’s leading returning tackler next season, with his 61 stops behind only fifth year seniors Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese. His 6.5 TFLs trail only Stephon Tuitt. He’s second (or tied for second) on the team in interceptions, passes defended, pass breakups, and tied for the team lead in fumbles forced and recovered. All that points to a guy that’s done a very good job at performing a very diverse job. Impressive considering that he wasn’t expected to see the field much this year.

Spond talked about the versatility needed to play the Dog linebacker spot and why it feels almost custom fit for Jaylon.

“The cool part about being the Dog linebacker is that you’re working directly with the defensive backs, but at the same time you’re also working with the D-line,” Spond told SI.com. “From my point of view and experience with the system, I think the position suits him perfectly.”

The future looks only up from here for Smith, who already showed an impressive mix of productivity and potential this season, with Athlon naming him the first-team linebacker on their All-Freshman squad. That should elevate expectations for next year, with Smith going from impressive freshman to All-American caliber player.

“I think it’s nice to be able to tell somebody, ‘You can be as good as you want to be’,” Spond said. “I really think that’s the case with Jaylon. If he wants to be the greatest linebacker in the country and go to the NFL as soon as he can–I really think he can.”