FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame will sign the highest rated football prospect from Indiana for the second year in a row when Bishop Luers linebacker Jaylon Smith joins the Irish on national signing day Wednesday.
Although the Irish lost the national championship game to Alabama 42-14, their appearance in the game Jan. 7 makes landing their states top recruit easy to explain.
Smith – like last years top Indiana recruit, quarterback Gunner Kiel – is staying close to home and joins a program that can compete for championships.
What recruiting experts have a harder time explaining is why Indiana is producing more Division I players in the last five years.
I dont know why, Scott Kennedy, director of Scouting for FoxSports.com, said of the increase in Indiana players. Maybe, somebody is hitting the state harder and saying, Hey, there are some pretty good players here. Maybe players are seeing that Im a (6-foot-2) shooting guard, Im not going to be in the NBA. But I can go be a big wide receiver. I dont know why. Ive just noticed that it is happening.
Indiana made a big jump in producing college football talent in 2009 as 137 Division I prospects came out of the state, according to the Rivals.com database. The state had only 66 Division I prospects in 2008, and besides the 65 recruits in 2003, Indiana had fewer than 55 Division I players from 2002 to 2007 listed in the Rivals.com database.
I think in Indianapolis, specifically, the high school coaches in that area for football have done a nice job getting their kids out, holding combines and events to sort of showcase their guy, JC Shurburtt, 247Sports national recruiting director, said as a way to explain the increase of talent coming from the state. And that makes all the sense in the world because Indianapolis is where the NFL combine is every year. I think it has worked from Indianapolis outward. I think Indianapolis has worked outward up toward Fort Wayne in the northeast and up toward Gary in the northwest, it is certainly something you are seeing trending up.
Notre Dame isnt the only Indiana program taking advantage of the states increased talent level. Indiana University has the No. 51 class in the nation, according to Rivals.com, and the Hoosiers have five players from the state in their 2013 recruiting class, including Homestead receiver Isaac Griffith.
Purdue, which has the 59th best class, according to Rivals.com, will sign two players from the state Wednesday.
IU this year actually has done a really good job of some of those guys below Smith, (Ben Davis defensive back) Antonio Allen and some of those Indianapolis kids, Shurburtt said. Indiana as a state is probably better than Kentucky the last few years, a little better than Arkansas, just to compare them to SEC states. I think the class in Indiana this year is better than the class in South Carolina, which is a statement.
Although Kennedy and Shurburtt agreed that Notre Dame landing Smith was important because of the linebackers talents, they didnt feel it was overly important for the Irish to keep the top Indiana prospect in the state.
Notre Dame truly can recruit nationally, and two, its not like you are going to be losing a flood of guys, Kennedy said. (Smith is) not going to set a precedent. Its like OK, I have to take care of Indiana or Im not going to be competitive. That is not the case. It is not one guy that hurts you. Its the trend. You are not going to miss three guys next year in Indiana that are going to come back and haunt you. Its not as important for Notre Dame. I think they are probably the team in this day and age that can recruit nationally better than anybody.
I dont think it is as important to keep (Smith) for prosperity sake, as it is for just this is a guy that you dont want to be playing against and can help your team win now.