MORE: Underclassmen challenge
Jaylon Smith has been exceeding expectations around the Midwest for years.
Before Smith became a five-star outside linebacker and one of the elite football prospects in the country, he had to pick between public high school or the rigors of a private Catholic education mixed with a demanding extracurricular schedule.
Smith's first commitment was to Bishop Luers where he has been part of three straight state championships. That decision helped guide the two-way standout to his Notre Dame commitment earlier this month. Choosing the Irish with plans to rekindle past glory is a proposition Smith embraced.
"Most people that don't know Notre Dame, they refer to the glory days," Smith said. "They think all the Notre Dame people are always trying to refer to the glory days. It's really our challenge to get back there. I'm looking forward to it."
Embracing a challenge went beyond Smith's college choice.
Throughout the spring, Smith has traveled to camps and 7-on-7 tournaments in order to sharpen his skills for the upcoming season. Next week, the five-star prospect will cap off the travel circuit with a trip to Atlanta as one of 100 top players participating in the inaugural Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge.
"It is an honor to attend those types of things and participate in those types of things," Smith said. "I definitely have a great mentality going in there. I look forward to being the best out there."
Five of the top six prospects in the Rivals100 will be in attendance. Smith fits into that group as the latest rankings update has him listed at fourth overall.
In terms of position groups, Smith is ranked as the top outside linebacker nationally and trails only Alabama commit Reuben Foster in terms of all linebacker spots. Foster, who will also take part in the Five-Star Challenge, projects more as an inside backer, but will give Smith a measuring stick.
"You can never be satisfied," Smith said. "That is not really a winner right there. Obviously they've got Reuben second and much love and respect for him but I am definitely going to open some eyes and I'm looking forward to it. It really starts now with training and training harder than those guys."
After announcing his commitment to the Fighting Irish, Smith didn't shy away from saying Notre Dame had landed the top player in the country. He added factors off the playing field into the equation in painting the picture of a well-rounded student-athlete.
"Really, it's my character that separates me from most of those guys," Smith said. "I don't like that most of these scouting reports go off of ability.
"I see a lot of guys talking and doing these interviews and they don't have anything to say. It's their character that they need to improve on. Really just developing a great mindset and just speaking it."
But it's the tangible things that have carried Smith to five-star status and an invitation to the Challenge. It will be those same attributes that he plans to show off while going up against Foster and the rest of the national elite next weekend.
"They're thinking what I am thinking," Smith said. "They are trying to make a statement too. It will be two great players going at it and we'll see who wins."
Mike Farrell's take
Smith could be the most athletic linebacker we've seen in years and certainly the most athletic headed to South Bend in a long time. He's long, rangy and athletic and he can cover running backs, tight ends or even wide receivers because of his quickness and length. He'll be a great matchup to watch in one-on-ones and in 7-on-7 where he could make some highlight reel plays.
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