Ohio State ties demand Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith's focus

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

The Ohio State clothing in Jaylon Smith’s wardrobe may have to stay in the back of his closet for the rest of the month.

In what could be his last game at Notre Dame, Smith will play against his brother’s former team and the school that finished runner-up in his recruitment.

Smith insists that he has put aside the former in order to defeat the latter in the Fiesta Bowl.

“Honestly just the Ohio State game is where my focus is,” Smith said Friday when asked about where he’s at in the process of making a decision to enter the NFL Draft. “I’ve discussed (it) with family and things like that, but we all agreed that what matters the most is beating Ohio State. I have to put a lot of effort into that considering talking trash with my brother.”

Smith’s older brother, Rod, played running back at Ohio State from 2010-14. The two have exchanged plenty of gear from their schools in the past.

“It’s really cool,” Jaylon Smith said. “We definitely like the colors of the rainbow.”

But the connections to Ohio State are deeper than a pile of T-shirts for Notre Dame’s star linebacker and defensive MVP.

Rod Smith identified Ohio State as his dream school as a child. Jaylon Smith preferred to watch the NFL and picked the New England Patriots as his team.

When Rod Smith was able to live his dream and enroll at Ohio State, many imagined his younger brother would eventually follow the same path.

Then Jaylon Smith developed into a five-star prospect and claimed scholarship offers from all over the country. But the decision came down to the two schools not too far from Fort Wayne, Ind.: Notre Dame and Ohio State.

“That was my second choice,” Smith said of Ohio State. “Being a great university, a fine university, with a rich tradition similar to Notre Dame. Very close to home. There’s a lot of factors that played into it. I just felt more comfortable with Notre Dame. Ohio State’s a great school.”

His older brother supported his choice.

“We all just hoped that we played each other one day,” Smith said. “He was happy that I took my own path.”

Throughout his brother’s Ohio State career and his own recruitment, Smith developed relationships with several players on Ohio State’s roster. Shortly after the Fiesta Bowl matchup was announced, Buckeye running back Ezekiel Elliott sent Smith a tweet.

“see you New Years brother,” Elliott wrote.

“Let’s put on a show brodie,” Smith replied.

“I enjoy watching them. I know, what did I say, 23 players on the team,” said Smith, but don’t hold him to that estimated number. “We’re close. Throughout the recruiting process I developed great relationships. It’s all about Go Irish over here.”

His knowledge of the Ohio State personnel could come in handy in trying to stop a potent offensive attack. The Buckeyes average 35 points per game and feature the 12th-ranked rushing offense in the country with 241.9 yards per game.

“They have so many weapons, so it’s a just a list of names that can create explosive plays at any given moment,” Smith said. “That’s the No. 1 thing that stands out from an athletic (standpoint). They’re also knowledgeable players as well.”

The familiarity won’t change the way Smith prepares for the game. When he takes the field at University of Phoenix Stadium, the matchup will still be us versus them.

“For me the game is the same. It really doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Smith said. “You have to have that same intensity and mentality of going out there and dominating.”

At least one more time Smith will have the chance to do so at Notre Dame. Following the game, Smith will no longer be able to sidestep questions about his future.

Smith will have two weeks to meet the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft. Still he’s not willing to admit how long it will take him to make a final decision.

“I can’t answer that. I’m trying to prepare for practice (the next day),” Smith said. “That’s the key thing.”

That kind of focus has enabled Smith to have a successful career at Notre Dame. No reason to expect that to change now.

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith (9) walks off the field following Notre Dame 38-36 loss to Stanford on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015, in Palo Alto, Calif. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN