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June 11, 2012
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. He's been part of three straight state championships since. That decision helped guide the two-way standout from Fort Wayne, Ind., 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.
All spring he's traveled to camps and 7-on-7 tournaments to sharpen his skills in advance of the upcoming season. Next week he 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 type 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 group Smith is rated the top outside linebacker nationally and trails only Alabama commit Reuben Foster, who will take part in the Challenge, when all the linebackers are combined. Foster projects more as an inside backer but will give Smith a measuring stick.
Smith has proven himself against the Midwest for the better part of two years. Now he can line up against Foster and other national elites for a better view of where he fits in.
"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 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'll match 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." ?