There are many definitions of a leader. There are some who are vocal and outspoken, some who lead by example, and some who are a combination of all these traits. Many would classify Jaylon Smith as the latter, and I would agree.
Without a doubt, the Ft. Wayne native will be looked upon as the leader of the 2015 Notre Dame defensive unit, a unit that has the potential to be a very dangerous squad to opposing offenses. The Irish will look to Smith and the defense early and often in this season, as the offense likely will require time to become a solid cohesive unit under new quarterback Malik Zaire.
Since arriving in South Bend, Jaylon Smith has accomplished a lot, but the most impressive accomplishment of all, is actually living up to the hype that surrounded him as consensus 5-star recruit coming out of Bishop Luers High School.
As a freshmen, Smith recorded 67 tackles (6.5 for loss) and was named the defensive newcomer of the year. He followed that year up with an outstanding sophomore effort, which included 112 tackles (9 TFL) and was named to the A.P. Second Team All-American team. As Smith enters his junior year, the accolades and acknowledgments keep pouring in, and the expectations are greater than ever.
It looks as if Jaylon Smith will be moving back to his original position of outside linebacker in 2015, where the Irish can utilize his speed, athleticism, and instincts, which is great news for him and the Irish, not so great for opposing offenses.
What has many (including myself) excited about what Jaylon Smith could accomplish in the upcoming year is the fact the Irish are healthy and deep on the defensive side of the ball. Opposing offenses will no longer be able to just avoid Smith on the field, as the Irish defensive squad can attack and defend from multiple positions. Couple that with the fact that he is moving back to the outside linebacker position, and Irish fans could see Smith take his game to a level that could see him worthy, and rightfully so, of a top five draft pick in the 2017 (or 16) NFL draft.
Obviously with two years left of eligibility, Irish fans and coaching staff hope to see him at Notre Dame for all four years, but the possibility of him leaving after the 2015 season is a very real one, especially if he accomplishes all that many think he is capable of in the upcoming season.
The fact the Smith can stop the run, rush the edge, defend the pass, and do all of this at such a high level is what has NFL scouts so excited about the young man. Jaylon Smith is the true definition of a football player, and has an outstanding chance at being a star on Sunday, for some lucky team. He possesses an intuitiveness or instinct that can’t be taught, and exudes confidence and maturity in all phases of the game.
He can be described as being an extension of the coaching staff on the field playing, and makes the life of any defensive coordinator, a bit less stressful. If it sounds like we are gushing over him, we are, and he deserves every bit of it. Any college team in America would love to have a young man like Smith on their team, and they would be better for it.
Although his accomplishments on the field have, at the very least, lived up to all the expectations, he has conducted himself off the field in manner that coincides with the expectations that Notre Dame demands. It’s a fact that over the years Notre Dame has had many great players roam the field in the house that Rockne built, and only time will tell where Jaylon Smith will fall into that category, but our guess it will be very high on the list. In the day and age where integrity and hard work rarely coincide with national acknowledgment and results, Jaylon Smith exudes all of the above, and is a refreshing reminder that one can be great on the field, and off the field at the same time.
Obviously only Jaylon Smith knows what the future has in store for him, but we highly suggest enjoying every minute that is possible of watching this leader on the field, in 2015. Smith has conducted himself in a manner that makes fans proud to say he is a member of their beloved Irish squad, and as a fan we should in no way be complacent about that. In the day and age where narcissistic behavior is commonplace in athletics, Jaylon Smith is a throwback to simpler times, and is a reminder of why we love college football in the first place.