Notre Dame football recruiting: Five-star Smith still mulling Irish

TYLER JAMES
South Bend Tribune

KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- John “JuJu” Smith knows his top six, but he isn’t in a rush to trim the list.

Such is the luxury of being a five-star prospect. Programs will patiently wait to learn their fate with the safety from Long Beach, Calif.

Notre Dame finds itself in the same position as the five other schools – USC, UCLA, Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama – at the top of Smith’s list. The Irish may learn more following Smith’s final official visit, a trip to USC on Jan. 17. Smith said he plans on eliminating two or three schools at that point to signal the final stretch to February’s signing day.

Notre Dame cemented itself as a contender for Smith in October when he visited for the victory over USC.

“What I like about Notre Dame is the academics are crazy, the tradition over there is really awesome and the Christian life is really strong,” Smith said. “I really like Notre Dame for those three things. It was a great experience being out there.”

Plenty has changed for Notre Dame since that October. Gone is defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, who Smith admired.

“It kinda broke my heart when coach Diaco left,” Smith said. “He’s a great coach.”

On the flip side, Notre Dame added a verbal commitment from tight end Tyler Luatua, one of Smith’s close friends, earlier this month. The potential pairing with Luatua, who are both wearing No. 9 for Team Highlight at the Under Armour All-America Game, remains an attractive option for both Smith and the Irish.

Luatua and Smith both share Samoan heritage, much like Notre Dame de-fensive linemen Kona Schwenke and Justin Utupo. Smith described Utupo, who grew up in the same area of California and retains a fifth year of eligibility, as “like family.”

The Irish, led by ND’s California recruiter, wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock, have laid a base of constants for Smith to expect if he chose the Irish. Next he’ll have to weigh the change at defensive coordinator against the change in coaching staff at USC. The Irish and Trojans are thought to be the frontrunners for Smith’s eventual commitment.

In the meantime, Smith remains focused on backing up his high national ranking with his play this week against elite competition. The 6-foot-1, 206-pound prospect has been asked to play a hybrid linebacker/safety role for the Team Highlight defense.

“It's been crazy,” Smith said. “Going hard and competing against the best of the best, it's awesome to show your talent and show what you got.”

Smith ranks as the No. 2 safety in the 2014 class and No. 22 overall according to Rivals. 247Sports slates Smith as the No. 2 athlete and No. 26 overall.

TJames1@SBTinfo.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Safety John "JuJu" Smith (middle) remains as one of Notre Dame's top remaining targets. Smith, who has the Irish in his top six, will play in Thursday's Under Armour All-America Game. Photo courtesy of Under Armour.
Safety John "JuJu" Smith remains as one of Notre Dame's top remaining targets. Smith, who has the Irish in his top six, will play in Thursday's Under Armour All-America Game. Photo courtesy of Under Armour.