Jaylon Smith had every excuse to take this offseason off to let his body rest. A 14-game, state-title-producing junior season in the fall transitioned immediately into basketball season for the two-sport star.
No one would have blamed the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Smith had he disappeared for a few months, but the fact that he was very visible this spring is one of the reasons he makes the highest debut of the new five-stars
Smith's move from the No. 34 player in the country to the No. 4 spot in the Rivals100 was the product of a sensational camp, 7-on-7 and combine tour this offseason. The Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers prospect traveled to places such as Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Ann Arbor between February and April to not only show off his skills, but to take his game to new heights.
"I am just enjoying all of this off-season stuff -- 7-on-7s and camps -- because it gets you prepared for the season coming up," Smith said. "My love for the game is really why I do it. I'm really just trying to go out there, make a statement and not leave any doubt in people's minds that I am the best outside linebacker in the nation."
There is another reason Smith was very visible this spring. When he is on the field, coaches and media pay closer attention and that has resulted in more opportunities for his high school, 7-on-7 teammates and even other prospects working out at the camps he attends. Smith understands that and embraces that.
"That's really my role, just in giving back with my abilities and my attention," Smith said. "I am glad I've gotten a chance to give those guys an opportunity just to be evaluated by some of these BCS college coaches. It's a blessing for me to have this type of attention and I'm taking advantage of that."
It was clear this past weekend when Smith attended the RAS Camp in Angola, Ind. College coaches from schools such as Illinois, Notre Dame, Purdue, Iowa and Wisconsin were working the camp, but there was also a throng of media in attendance to see Smith work out and hear him announce his college destination. In the process, other players at the camp earned positive publicity and several picked up new scholarship offers.
Smith's teammates have taken advantage of the increased attention the new five-star has brought to the Fort Wayne area and his AWP 7-on-7 team. Fellow Bishop Luers standouts such as defensive backs Tyvel Jemison, Kendrick Mullen and Andrew Spencer have elevated their stock and profiles this offseason while others such as Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran linebacker Michael Hicks, who plays next to Smith in their 7-on-7 defense, went from under-the-radar to well-known over the last few months.
While those players are focused on making their own mark, they also respond to Smith's presence on the field. He is almost always the most vocal player on the field, keeping his comments positive and constructive. His time spent with his 7-on-7 team this spring has taught him what it takes to be a better leader.
"It's about heart and never getting down in situations," Smith said. "Maybe I do something wrong… you never see my head drop. Younger guys look at that type of stuff and they really feed off of what I do. I am trying to be poised and always staying positive. That plays a big role on our 7-on-7 team and just leading in general."
After one more season with Bishop Luers, Smith will take his talents and leadership to Notre Dame, the school to which he announced a commitment at the RAS Camp. Schools such as Ohio State, USC, Illinois and Michigan State all crossed his thoughts in the final few months before his commitment, but could not displace the connection he felt with the Fighting Irish.
"I knew March 3rd after I visited (South Bend)," Smith said. "I knew that I wanted to go there, but I wanted to make it a process and make sure nobody offered more than what Notre Dame did. Obviously nobody compares to them academically-wise in the Midwest."
Smith has already begun to build a bond with his future teammates -- a list that includes 13 other class of 2013 commitments and collectively represents the nation's eighth-best recruiting class.
At the same time, Smith has kept his head in the present. His 7-on-7 team still has goals to accomplish this summer, and Bishop Luers is poised to defend its Class 2A state title in the fall.
Smith feels his own development is far from complete, and also is not yet satisfied with his place in the national rankings. The No. 4 spot is "not really a winner," in Smith's eyes, and so he will continue to be visible this summer, and in the process undoubtedly raise the visibility of those around him.