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September 28, 2012

Dream comes true for Smith

MORE: U.S. Army All-American Bowl roster

FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Before another accolade showered down, Jaylon Smith played some pickup basketball with a classmate.

Then, for about a half hour, the five-star outside linebacker ceased to be a regular student. During an assembly in the Bishop Luers High School gymnasium Smith formally accepted an invitation to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, cementing his status as an elite football player.

Smith has collected many accolades in his prep career, but the latest might be his most cherished.

"It's obviously up there," Smith said. "I believe it's No. 1. Really just putting in all the hard work and dedication and really seeing it pay off for me. It's a dream come true."

Smith, who committed to Notre Dame in June, will become the first Fort Wayne player to participate in the Army Bowl since wide receiver John Goodman did so in 2008. Goodman attended Bishop Dwenger High School and is now a fifth-year senior at Notre Dame.

Bishop Luers has never produced a U.S. Army All-American, something Smith has noted. He hopes to represent his home state well in San Antonio on Jan. 5.

"It's really just going out there and holding it down for Indiana," Smith said. "I believe I'm gonna be the only one going there. I'm not sure. But I'll definitely be ready. I'm definitely prepared and will be ready to go."

Smith will arrive in the Alamo City without the recruiting drama that accompanies some participants.

The Irish secured his commitment over scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Purdue, Tennessee and USC, among others.

Since making his pledge, Smith has visited South Bend multiple times, most recently for the win against Michigan last weekend along with several other prospects. Assistant coach Mike Elston, his lead recruiter, attended the Army Bowl ceremony. He and Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly were expected to attend Smith's game Friday night as well.

Smith has relished being secure in his decision rather than still sorting through options.

"You can just go to things like this and be settled," Smith said. "Not have to worry about all these questions on who's in the front and really just being relieved. I'm really glad that I made the decision to go to Notre Dame."

Last weekend Smith did some recruiting of his own and reconnected with Irish linebacker Manti Te'o, with whom he has grown close in the last several months. In light of recent tragedy in Te'o's life, Smith wanted to show support.

"I had my lei on," Smith said. "I definitely was praying for Manti. We talked a couple days ago on Twitter. He was really just telling me everything's good and he's keeping a positive attitude. I really look forward to watching Manti in the future."

Soon enough Smith figures to replace Te'o as the face of the Notre Dame defense. Until then he hopes to deliver another state championship to Bishop Luers and, aside from some departures here and there, remain a regular student and athlete.

Smith has made sure to deflect the spotlight.

"I'm a very humble guy so it doesn't really matter," Smith said. "It's good to kinda get noticed but you have to remind yourself that there's always room for improvement."



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