Jaylon Smith proved last week that when Notre Dame Nation is behind you, nothing can stop you.
The Bishop Luers senior and Fighting Irish verbal commit found himself initially behind in the voting in each round of the inaugural News-Sentinel Fan Choice High School Football Player of the Year. And each time, with the help of Twitter and topics on Notre Dame message boards, Smith (23,382 votes for 51.32 percent) pulled out a win.
He narrowly knocked off Nick Reese (22,182 votes for 48.68 percent) of Snider in the finals over the weekend after close to 50,000 votes were cast.
“It feels good to know that I have Notre Dame fans out there looking for me,” Smith said. “I am glad to receive the Player of the Year award. I appreciate it and feel like I earned it.”
A top-five player nationally according to most recruiting services at outside linebacker, Smith has found himself not putting up gaudy numbers both offensively or defensively. But there are legitimate reasons for both.
Early in the season, it was felt that the Knights had significant enough depth at the running back position – a place where Smith rushed for 1,319 yards and 25 touchdowns last year – to allow Smith to focus primarily on defense. But the Bishop Luers offense has sputtered at times this season, and the second half of the year has seen Smith getting more snaps at running back.
“I have not gotten half the carries I got last year, but I am pleased with everybody's effort on offense,” Smith said.
As for defense, the season has been filled with teams running plays to the opposite side of the field of where Smith is, or double and sometimes triple teaming him with blockers.
Despite that, Smith has shown his freakish athleticism plenty of times this season.
In a 22-20 victory over North Side in week seven with future coach Brian Kelly watching, Smith sprinted from one side of the field to the other to track down one of the most athletic players in the area in the Redskins' C.J. Jackson short of what at first appeared to be an easy first down conversion.
Smith arrived on the scene like he had been shot from a cannon.
“It has been tough at times with a lot of plays not coming my way, but I just stay in the game mentally and pursue the ball,” Smith said. “Getting blocked has helped me work on my technique (at shedding blockers) and paying attention to detail.”
Smith may be a dominant player heralded by scouts nationwide, but one thing he isn't is a Prima donna. In a time when so many high-profile prep athletes are surrounded by negative influences and carry themselves with an aura of invincibility, Smith is humble and grounded. He is the clear-cut vocal leader of the Bishop Luers team and is one of the primary ambassadors of the Notre Dame Class of 2017 that currently ranks No. 4 in the country by Rivals.com with 21 verbal commits.
“I am so into Notre Dame,” Smith said. “I have been to about four Notre Dame games so far this year, and we are hoping to keep bringing (commitments) in. Every recruit is kind of seeing that at Notre Dame you can get a great education and play some great football at the same time.”
Smith is so attached to the Fighting Irish that he laughed when asked if he was headed to Norman this weekend to watch No. 5 Notre Dame take on No. 8 Oklahoma.
“I actually thought about trying to find a way down there,” Smith said. “But I will tell you that if (Notre Dame) goes undefeated and is in the national championship game, I will get there somehow.”
With the Fighting Irish showcasing a top five defense through the first seven games of the season, Smith is even more eager to make his mark when he gets to South Bend.
“Hopefully, next year I will be playing behind (outside linebacker Prince Shembo) and learning from a guy who will be a senior,” Smith said. “After I take over his role in the future, I really want to be in the role that (senior linebacker Manti Te'o) is in now, just being the leader of the defense.
“I can't wait to achieve it.”
But first, he has some unfinished business. Smith and his senior teammates are attempting to win their fourth straight state championship. That trek continues this Friday at home against Eastside.
Smith will enter that game with yet another accolade to add to his already impressive resume.