It was a moment that Notre Dame Preparatory Academy senior Jake Smith didn’t think was possible just four years ago.
In front of the school’s chapel with teammates and peers looking on, Smith received his Under Armour All-America jersey, making his appearance in the annual football game official.
“It’s really cool for me,” Smith said. “I grew up watching the game and seeing everything on Twitter. I never thought it was a possibility for me, but it’s a dream come true.”
Smith will join some of the most talented prep football players in the country for the game on Jan. 3 in Orlando, Florida.
The game presents an opportunity for players who have been highly-recruited by major division I programs to showcase their talent on a national stage. Some players even announce the school of their choice at the game in front of a national television audience.
But for Smith, it’s all about representing the state of Arizona and Notre Dame Prep one last time before heading off to the University of Texas.
Smith committed to play football for the Longhorns back in June, choosing them over more than 30 other major college programs – including Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and both Arizona State and Arizona.
“It was the complete package for me,” Smith said of Texas. “I love the school; I love the campus, the coaches and the tradition.”
Athletic scholarships started pouring in for the wideout during his junior season, in which he accounted for 2,538 all-purpose yards and 28 touchdowns. Smith played a major role in the Saints’ 13-1 record, in which their only loss came to Centennial High in the 5A State Championship.
He was joined by his father, James, on several recruiting trips after the season, visiting Texas as well as Arizona State, Alabama and Notre Dame – among others. Along the way, James offered his son advice, not knowing at the time the type of impact it truly had.
“When I was going through the recruiting process, he always brought up good points I didn’t think of,” Jake said. “We traveled all across the country together. He was my mentor and my best friend going through that process.”
As part of the jersey ceremony, Jake honored his father with the American Family Insurance Dream Champion Award, which is given to the person most responsible for helping him capture his dream.
“It’s an incredible feeling that he is giving me a little recognition for what he has been able to accomplish,” James said. “But it’s been mostly him. He should be taking all of the credit.”
Jake’s selection to the Under Armour All-America Game isn’t uncharted territory for Notre Dame Prep. Last season, long snapper Slater Zellers was invited to the game before going on to play at the collegiate level for the University of California, Berkeley.
Like Zellers, Smith has excelled at his respective position throughout his prep career, becoming a leader both on and off the field.
“He isn’t one of those guys that is really vocal, but when he does say something, everyone listens,” Notre Dame Prep coach George Prelock said of Smith. “He leads more by actions. When he is going, the team follows.”
The Saints have gone undefeated through the first six games of the 2018 season, outscoring opponents 284-122 while averaging just over 47 points per game.
Smith has remained a vital part of the Saints’ arsenal, accounting for 1,064 all-purpose yards and 23 touchdowns – just five short of his total all of last season.
Notre Dame Prep is in prime position to once again contend for the 5A state title, as they currently sit at No. 2 overall in the conference behind Centennial.
“Our only goal is to get back there and finish the job this time,” Smith said. “It feels good to know that we are on the right track.”
Just how far the Saints will go this season remains to be seen. And while this is Prelock’s last season coaching Smith, he remains hopeful that the work ethic the senior has displayed on a daily basis will encourage the young players who come after him.
“The legacy he leaves is how to work hard and how that can translate to being great,” Prelock said. “He sets personal goals for himself, and he does everything in his power to achieve those.
“Hopefully everything he does rubs off on the rest of the kids and pays off.”