One of the nation’s most highly-touted talents is now officially a member of Tom Herman’s 2019 class, as Scottsdale (Az.) Notre Dame Preparatory wide receiver Jake Smith has signed his National Letter of Intent with the Texas Longhorns.
Among the earlier additions to Texas’ 2019 recruiting haul, Smith amassed 32 total offers throughout the process, with invitations stemming from the likes of Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Texas A&M, among a multitude of others.
Ohio State, Notre Dame, Alabama, Arizona State, and Washington even welcomed Smith for various unofficial visits, but ultimately, as he announced on May 7, Smith’s recruitment was essentially a two-horse race between Texas and USC.
The Trojans got the first official say during Smith’s May 18 official visit, but even then, the general belief was that Smith headed west with the Longhorns as his leader. That belief didn’t waver following his weekend in Los Angeles, and furthermore, it only solidified just days later once Smith stepped foot on the Forty Acres for his official visit on June 1.
By the time he headed home, Smith had found his new home — the elite four-star Under Armour All-American was a Longhorn, announcing his commitment to Texas on June 3.
“I fell in love at the spring game and I’ve known since then there was no other place for me,” Smith said in an interview with Sports360AZ.
“To me, it really just seems like the complete package,” he said. “I really didn’t find that anywhere else — at any other school I went to. It’s a great city, a place I want to live, a place I want to be if I get injured and I’m not playing football. I would still want to be in Austin.”
Before he could get to Austin, though, Smith had one final season to see to in Scottsdale, and the four-star talent certainly made the most of his final months among the high school ranks.
Throughout his final 14-game stretch with Notre Dame Prep, which capped with a 60-7 state title loss to Peoria Centennial, Smith’s tremendous versatility was once again put on full display. Best described as a Swiss Army knife type of talent, Smith played a multitude of positions for Notre Dame Prep. In addition to his most commonly discussed roles at wide receiver and running back, Smith fielded kick returns and punt returns to the tune of 538 yards, handling punting duties, in which he averaged 40.3 yards per boot, and also played defensive back, compiling 20 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and two passes defended.
Smith’s bread and butter, however, was his ball-carrying and ball-catching ability, and he implemented each to considerable success as a senior. An explosive talent with great burst and tremendous speed in the open field, Smith collected 741 yards and 15 scores on 100 carries as a complementary option to junior running back Dominick Mastro. While he certainly won’t see such a significant load at Texas, Smith’s ability to bolster a ground game is apparent, so expect to see him utilized at times as a unique, change of pace option to the one-two punch of Keaontay Ingram and Daniel Young,
“They want to use me in the backfield and also at receiver,” Smith told Sports360AZ of how Texas intends to utilize his skill set. “A lot of the backfield stuff will be jet sweeps and just trying to get me the ball to the outside, but mainly I’ll play slot receiver and I think that’s where I’ll fit best. I’ll also have my opportunities on the outside on one-on-ones, so I think they want to use me in a lot of different ways. Also, in the return game, I forgot about that, so they see me as a versatile player and they want to use me that way.”
Unsurprisingly, where Smith will likely see the field most often as a true freshman is, as he noted, at wide receiver; specifically, in the slot.
Ranked as the nation’s No. 81 player and No. 12 wide receiver prospect, per the 247Sports Composite, Smith has solid size for a slot receiver at 6’1, 189 pounds, and he has a frame capable after adding weight ahead of next season, which will be essential if Texas aims to utilize him extensively.
As his film reveals, Smith is an especially dynamic talent with the ball in his hands. The pure speed and explosiveness that allowed him to thrive as a running back remain evident during his duties as a receiver as well. Whether it’s cutting on a dime and taking a dump off pass the distance, or simply blowing past a defender on a post or fade route, Smith is a home run waiting to happen, and those home runs happened quite often. In addition to his 15 scores on the ground, Smith’s 64 receptions netted 1,112 yards — his second 1,000-yard showing in as many seasons — and 22 touchdowns.
When his pass-catching productivity was paired with his ability out of the backfield, along with his efforts elsewhere in the return game, as a defensive back, and as the team’s punter, the end result was Smith being recognized as the National Gatorade Player of the Year.
So where will such a sensational talent fit on the Forty Acres as a true freshman?
While it’s quite clear that Smith’s potential to take each touch to the house will warrant some opportunities, Texas may very well boast an embarrassment of riches at receiver. Should Texas return its two-headed monster in Collin Johnson on the outside and Lil’Jordan Humphrey in the slot, the Longhorns’ top three receivers will each be back in burnt orange in 2019 — Devin Duvernay (Z) will be a senior. Though a second slot failed to emerge throughout the 2018 campaign, freshman Joshua Moore showed early flashes up his upside before going down with a season-ending injury, and D’Shawn Jamison — yet another explosive freshman talent — is set to see his first full offseason as a slot after transitioning from cornerback last summer.
Furthermore, fellow true freshman Jordan Whittington, the nation’s No. 9 wide receiver, projects as a slot and will be on campus as an early enrollee vying for playing time, as will a multitude of other former highly-touted talents such as Brennan Eagles, Al’Vonte Woodard, and Jordan Pouncey.
Simply put, playing time won’t come without plenty of competition, but given his explosive upside, Smith will be as intriguing of an option as any of the aforementioned as Texas cultivates its receiver rotation next season. In the meantime, Smith may ultimately find reps as a returner; a role in which he thrived last season in as he averaged 38.2 yards per kick return and 19.7 during punt returns.
There will be no shortage of competition to that end as well, but in any case, Smith is a truly elite talent and the National Gatorade Player of the Year for good reason. He’s going to see the field early once he steps foot on the Forty Acres, and the No. 2 talent in Arizona this cycle looks the part of a long-term star in burnt orange.