Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith trying to avoid the SI cover jinx

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Don’t put any stock in the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.

Jaylon Smith certainly doesn’t.

Even if it’s just a regional cover?

Over several decades, there’s a long list of great athletes and teams that have been featured on the magazine front, only to fall into oblivion — or worse  shortly thereafter.

Some circumstances may be coincidental. Others…

Smith, a junior who is projected to be the heart and soul of Notre Dame’s defense at linebacker, was featured on SI’s college football preview cover with offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley and the leprechaun.

The Irish, ranked fourth in the magazine’s preseason poll, shared the celebrity spotlight with Ohio State, Auburn and Mississippi State. Specific parts of the country were delivered different covers.

But still, a jinx is a jinx. Right?

“Don’t listen to it,” Smith said of his plan to avoid the jinx. “You (can) avoid it if you don’t know what it is.”

The 6-foot-2, 240-pounder has convinced himself to take the honor at face value, then keep it from being a distraction as the work for this season progresses.

“My dad called me, he said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I didn’t tell anyone,” Smith said. “It’s a humbling experience to be able to represent Notre Dame with Ronnie. It’s something you’ll be able to show you’re grandchildren.”

Smith should have plenty to show his descendants once the time comes. He has put himself in a position to achieve at the highest level in what could very well be his final year at Notre Dame. Unless something strange  uh, jinx-ish —  happens, Smith is on track to be very highly regarded by the NFL once the season ends. He could be convinced to put his name in the draft with a year of eligibility on the table.

Until then, though, the Irish will bask in his success. The influence Smith has on this defense should be significant.

Last year, while learning a new position at inside linebacker, Smith led the Irish with 112 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Given the depth at inside linebacker with Jarrett Grace, Joe Schmidt and Nyles Morgan, Smith is back at his familiar outside linebacker spot and poised to be one of the best in the game.

“Jaylon Smith is one of the most versatile and athletic linebackers in the country,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “We now feel like he's in a position where we can get him to do everything, but not complicate it so much that he can't go play the game and play fast and be the kind of player that he wants to be.

“He's, physically, in the best shape. He's stronger. Getting a chance to really put him in a position to ascend again this year is going to be exciting.”

“(Moving outside) allows me to be flexible,” Smith said. “You can show your speed (outside); being able to pass rush. I’m really excited about it.”

Smith made the most of his summer, while enhancing his football conditioning. Besides spending time behind the camera in an internship for Fighting Irish Digital Media, he spent three weeks in South Africa in an athletic study abroad program.

“It was an amazing experience to be in the Motherland and see it for yourself,” Smith said of his trip. “The people are so happy over there. Togetherness, that’s one of the first things you notice.

“I also went on a two-day safari. I got to see the wild for the first time, elephants just roaming, not in a zoo. That won’t be my last time to go over there.

“(Race relations there) are not as bad… After they won the (World Cup) rugby (in 1995), things began to change. We actually got to meet (famous rugby star) Chester Williams. It was an incredible experience.

“The ties (between the races) are noticeable, at least with what we were exposed to.”

“It’s all about togetherness —  whether it’s a country or anything, we have to be together. You have to use a certain platform to display that. I’m happy to be here.”

Smith is at home on his platform.

No jinx will change that.

Apologies to the sled.

— Mike Vorel (@mikevorel) August 8, 2015//

Notre Dame is one of four teams featured on the regional covers of Sports Illustrated's College Football Preview.
Notre Dame junior linebacker Jaylon Smith was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with teammate Ronnie Stanley. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)