The New No. 9

Jaylen Smith. Photo courtesy of UofL Athletics

Jaylen Smith. Photo courtesy of UofL Athletics

Jaylen Smith is one of the many weapons in former roommate Lamar Jackson’s UofL arsenal. The sophomore wide receiver enters this weekend’s game at No. 5 Clemson with eight catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns in 2016. The 6-foot-1 200-pounder burst onto the scene with five catches in the second game of his college career against Houston. Smith finished his freshman season with 29 receptions for 376 yards and one touchdown.

You were Lamar’s roommate last year, so how is he different to you?
You can tell – a different confidence in his leadership. Once you accept the role as the starting quarterback, you accept the role as the head of the team. He’s embraced it well.

What might we not know about him?
Lamar is a big Kodak Black fan. Lamar is actually the reason I listen to Kodak Black today.

You came in and played a lot early, made plays and now you’ve got a lot more experience and the team is winning. How different is it for you?
It’s a credit to Lamar and the rest of the freshmen that came in and the older guys. They looked out. Jamari [Staples] and James [Quick] – they did a good job helping me learn the plays, learn the system when they were banged up. When they came back, it just made everything better.

How did you end up here from Pascagoula, Mississippi?
My first offer was actually Ole Miss, so immediately everyone assumed that I was a shoo-in to go to Ole Miss. Not too long after I received that offer, UofL came and I got to visit. Me and Terrell Buckley had long talks because he’s actually from Pascagoula, Mississippi, and him being here, that wasn’t the full reason I came, but he gave me a lot of insight. Once they told me that they had three or four seniors leaving and there were a lot of spots open, I took my chances with Louisville.

How impressive is Coach Petrino’s recall and vision on the field?
We go over it all week, sometimes a look is screwed up, sometimes it’s not the look that he wants, and he knows exactly what it’s going to be. So he gets mad at the scout defense or the offense and we get in a game and everything he said, it just all opens up perfectly.

How did the number change come about?
Last year, November 6, that was the night before we played against Syracuse, I had one of my best friends, Marshean Joseph, pass away in a car accident. He and his father passed away, and he wore No. 9 in high school and No. 99 at Mississippi State. He was a redshirt freshman at Mississippi State. The off-season came and Traveon went from No. 9 to No. 1 and so No. 9 was open and me and Mike had already talked. My whole freshman year, I wanted to change from No. 87. Once that happened and the opportunity for me to get No. 9, Mike [Kurowski] put it on my locker and he said, not only for that reason but that I had earned it from my freshman year. It was big for me to get No. 9.

What was the family’s reaction?
I changed it and I initially didn’t tell anybody, but then I posted a picture and I got immediate love from all the family. They sent their love and appreciation and they just enjoy seeing the No. 9 on somebody that was so close to MJ.

What does it mean to you every time you put on that No. 9?
It gives me a sense of courage. The courage that he had. Marshean was one of toughest people, one of the most hardworking people, one of the most humble people. He was just a phenomenal athlete, phenomenal football player. Me wearing No. 9 feels like not only am I playing but that he’s playing through me.

Who is your sports hero?
Randy Moss. It would definitely be Randy Moss. I’ve been watching Randy Moss for as long as I can remember. My first memory of him is him catching ball against the Cowboys. It was a simple hitch route. He’s running down the sidelines and he hesitated and then burst full-speed past the guy. It was amazing and ever since then I’ve been intrigued by the way Randy Moss played football.

How excited are you for this match-up, the first top five match-up of the season?
It’s going to be exciting. I’m excited to go down there and play, especially with what happened last year, how close we were to winning. I know Clemson is a phenomenal football team, got a great coach, great staff, great defense, but I feel like if we go in there confident and we make plays, that it can be a lot better game than people anticipate. I don’t know what people are saying right now. I’m just ready to go down there and have a blast and come out victorious. VT