Notre Dame football recruiting: Irish gem Smith lives up to hype at Army Bowl
SAN ANTONIO -- Jaylon Smith had to keep at least something for himself.
The Notre Dame linebacker commitment stood on the field of the Alamodome after the U.S. Army All-American Bowl signing autographs, taking pictures, and giving away piece of clothing and equipment.
Smith and his teammates on the West team lost by a final score of 15-8 to the East team, but fans young and old took notice of the five-star linebacker making plays all over the field and wanted to take something of his home with them.
First it was his towel. Then his bloody, yellow headband. Next a young fan asked for his knee pads. Smith even signed an autograph for a little boy that groaned when the Fort Wayne, Ind., native said he was going to Notre Dame. The boy happened to be an Alabama fan, but still wanted the signature.
When Smith was even asked for his cleats and socks, he finally drew a line. The cleats were for his little brother and the socks were for himself.
Such is life for the top recruit for the hottest team in college football.
Smith's stock has been on a constant rise and Saturday's game against some of the best players in the country supported the hype.
Named as a captain for his team, Smith helped lead a defense that played stingy for most of the game until allowing a late touchdown pass to surrender the lead.
Smith showed up all over the field for the West team whether in pass coverage, quarterback pressure or special teams.
With his team trailing by seven points late in the third quarter, Smith broke through the line on a field goal attempt and blocked the kick to keep his team within one score. Smith deflected the ball with one hand and ended up with a bloody nose as a result.
Well worth the sacrifice.
"The ball hit my facemask and it eventually led to my nose starting to bleed," Smith said. "It was wonderful to be able to do that on national television."
Smith finished the game with four tackles and assisted on a tackle for a loss in addition to his blocked field goal.
Sporting No. 9, Smith supported his case to be the No. 1 linebacker in the country. Even USC linebacker commitment Torrodney Prevot, who teamed with him on the West, sang Smith's praises after the game.
"He's an amazing player," Prevot said. "He's one of the top elite players honestly. He should be the No. 1 linebacker in the country."
Smith's most impressive tackle came on a play that was negated by a penalty in a collision between an Irish and Alabama commit. The 6-foot-3, 223-pound Smith met East running back Derrick Henry, who outweighs Smith by 20 pounds, in the hole at the three-yard line while defending his own goal line and took the future Tide tailback to the ground.
Henry scored the first touchdown of the game for the East in the first quarter, but couldn't find the end zone when Smith lined him up in the third quarter. Henry set nearly every national rushing record during his career at Yulee (Fla.) High which was capped by a senior campaign of 4,260 yards and 56 touchdowns.
Smith even impressed while making an admitted mistake earlier in the game.
In the second quarter, East quarterback Jeremy Johnson, an Auburn commit, rolled right out of the pocket and Smith switched from coverage and into a dead sprint towards Johnson in the backfield. So fast, in fact, Smith ran right by Johnson, who stepped inside and was eventually sacked by another West defender.
"He didn't see me, so I was full-go out and basically trying to kill him. I knew the mistake I made," Smith said. "I didn't come to balance or anything, but you just have to pick it up the next play and you've got to forget about it. It was great that I led him into my teammates to get a sack. Team effort."
The highlight, Smith said, was being named a captain of the West team.
The week was filled with chances to put a burgeoning college career in prospective - from time spent with the Army servicemen and women throughout the week to fellow Notre Dame commit Torii Hunter Jr.'s broken femur suffered in practice.
The lessons add up to an unforgettable experience for Smith, but the last touchdown his team gave up to lose the game still irked him an hour into signing autographs for fans.
"It was very critical from a learning standpoint," Smith said. "We had the game won. At any moment it can be taken away from you, so you've just got to cherish every opportunity."
With Smith's high school career finished, his opportunities at Notre Dame wait on the horizon.