“What took so long?”
The initial response from Hollywood (Fla.) Chaminade-Madonna head coach Dameon Jones is warranted. Rivals made the move to vault top wide receiver Jeremiah Smith to the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2024 on Monday even though the senior has sat at No. 2 for the bulk of the cycle.
It just came to a point this summer and fall where the nation’s top high school football player aligned with the recruit seemingly safe enough to being selected early on at the NFL Draft down the line. It doesn’t always line up that way, like it did for Trevor Lawrence before and after his time at Clemson, especially for non-quarterbacks.
RIVALS RANKINGS WEEK
Monday: Five-Star Countdown | Meet the new five-stars
Tuesday: Rivals250 released | Ten biggest movers | Gorney’s thoughts
Wednesday: Offensive position rankings released
Thursday: Defensive position rankings released
Friday: State rankings released
Saturday: Rankings Roundtable
Even Smith knows the knock on the position relative to the draft, where a wideout hasn’t been picked No. 1 since Keyshawn Johnson in 1996. However, trends are pointing upwards for impressive pass catchers like the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder. It doesn’t mean he or those around him didn’t expect Smith to earn the No. 1 overall nod, though.
Connecting with coaches, players and even onlookers at the South Florida prep powerhouse yields a common response when asking about Smith. It’s a daily dose of greatness relative to the flashes exclusive to Friday nights, or when cameras are on, etc. When it counts, though, Smith has amassed nearly 3,000 yards and 45 offensive scores against varsity competition ahead of this week’s state championship game against Clearwater (Fla.) Central Catholic.
Smith also shines on the track, where he took home state titles in the 100 and 400 meter hurdles last spring. Like with football, the consistency and polish it takes to win “grown man” races, as Smith calls it, envelop into the prospect that is all about preparation.
“I’m a worker, I think that’s what makes me the number one player,” Smith said.
Of course the frame, game, floor and ceiling are quite evident to those watching from afar or every day. Smith has gone viral as much as he’s worked volume over his upperclassman campaigns, like going for 316 yards and three scores during a game against one of New Jersey’s top programs in September.
The Rivals social media caption after that game is another tell on Smith. The longtime comparison has been Julio Jones, another lengthy football and track star at the position, and it has stuck. Folks around the Foley (Ala.) High School phenom in the early 2000s would begin defining Jones similarly to how many discuss Smith now – it’s evident all the time.
Lions wide receiver coach George Whigham sees it daily.
“The kid’s work ethic is second to none,” Whigham said. “It’s why the game seems so easy to him. He goes as hard in practice as he does in the game. The way he prepares himself isn’t like any other high school kid I’ve been around. He prepares himself like a professional. He has one gear, it’s why everyone says he is so serious, but it’s mentality.
“He’s a perfectionist and likes to do everything the right way, uncanny for his age.”
Rivals has rankings for recruits spanning two decades, always with a debate at the very top. A wide receiver has finished No. 1 overall just twice, Percy Harvin in 2006 and Dorial Green-Beckham in 2012. Quarterbacks and defenders dominate the top spot in between.
Smith being in the No. 1 conversation says so much about how safe a bet he may be at the next level.
On Friday nights and at various camp and 7-on-7 stops throughout his career, Smith has shown up and dominated. He can work down the field just as much as he can make plays after the catch. There is also an edge, a competitiveness, to his game that rises up to challenges and call-outs — something he deals with on a consistent basis. That’s when the pure physicality shows up fiercest.
Otherwise, it’s the polish that stands out when scouting Smith.
“When it comes to taking the right amount of steps in his release versus press or adjusting certain routes because he has to sit in the hole and read the zone defense, it’s all on a high level,” Whigham said. “You can’t put him in the box. You would think you would have to teach him different ways to run routes because he’s a bigger guy, but he can run the same type of routes and have the same type of moves as a guy who is 5-9, 150 pounds – which is ridiculous.
“He’s a no-brainer.”
The lack of quarrel around Smith’s status as a top recruit is part of the reason his recruitment remains contested. Committed to Ohio State since last December, in-state programs Miami, Florida and Florida State have each hosted the senior for games this fall and more visits down the stretch are being discussed.
After the No. 1 nod Monday and another state championship game Thursday, the 18-year-old will continue to hold weight and help dictate how the entire recruiting class of 2024 will shape up.
We get the feeling Smith’s impact will feel similar on Saturdays and very likely beyond.