ANGOLA – As is often the case in life, young people can learn from studying their predecessors and avoiding the pitfalls that have been made by others.
Notre Dame football's latest “next sensation,” Jaylon Smith, has apparently done just that.
Two years ago it was Smith's older brother, Rod Smith, who had the college football world slobbering. However, due to academic deficiencies during his career at Harding High School, the elder Smith had his collegiate career at Ohio State delayed initially while he completed academic work and received approval from the NCAA.
Smith was eventually able to enroll in Columbus and has spent the past two seasons slowly climbing the ever-crowded Buckeye tailback depth chart.
With Jaylon, the overriding theme of his announcement Saturday to attend Notre Dame was the amount of attention he and his family had devoted to the academic side of this critical life decision.
“I sat down with one of (Notre Dame's) academic advisors and they laid the statistics out there,” Smith explained, “and it was crazy as far as African-Americans.”
Smith said “99 percent of African-Americans graduate” from the South Bend university and that set the Fighting Irish far apart from some of the other 23 programs that were involved in his recruitment.
“You can go down the list and Ohio State, Illinois, and Alabama, and no one was close,” Smith said. “The other schools that were close were Stanford and Northwestern and schools like that.”
Without question, Smith did his research on the athletic side of this equation as well. He knows current Notre Dame outside linebackers Prince Shembo and Danny Spond will exhaust their eligibility after his freshman season in South Bend and Ishaq Williams after Smith's sophomore year.
Playing time will be available for the taking, and Smith, who boasted “I think that I'm the number one player in the country,” knows that, too. But if football was all that Smith was concerned about, he wouldn't be signing with a program that has never been relevant – on the field – nationally during his lifetime.
Reversing that lack of success by Notre Dame and facing the difficulty in the classroom are both challenges that Smith is ready to embrace.
“It really is (a challenge),” Smith said. “Most people that don't know Notre Dame, they refer to the glory days. But it's really our challenge to get back there and I'm looking forward to it.”
The importance of academics has been ingrained with Smith, who may study business at Notre Dame, since he enrolled at Bishop Luers High School as a freshman, as opposed to attending a public school as his brother did. Smith believes that emphasis, as well as the religious instruction at Bishop Luers, will make for an easier transition.
“It might have been the biggest factor,” Smith said of Luers' influence on his college choice. “If I had gone to a public school, I probably wouldn't be going to Notre Dame because I wouldn't know (what it was like). You don't know what you don't know.”