“The biggest thing with Jonathan is he’s a great player now, but he has such a huge upside,” Scotland County head coach Richard Bailey said. “He’s only played linebacker for one year… The thing about him: he’s an intense guy. He’s a workaholic. He lives in the weight room – he loves it. But he’s also a film junkie. He’s a very smart football player… When you watch his film, he looks like the fastest guy on the defense, because he plays fast and he is instinctive. And he’s physical…
“There are so many kids that have the talent, but don’t even get near maximizing the potential. Jonathan is the type that’s going to blow the roof off of his potential…
“He’s not a hugely vocal guy, but he is a ‘look at how I’m working, if you want to be good you need to come with me’ type guy.”
Smith began his career as a wide receiver and safety. As a sophomore, he moved up to varsity and converted to linebacker but missed the entire season nursing a knee injury.
“The great thing about him: he’s such a football junkie that he came to every practice, stood back there and watched the linebackers,” Bailey said. “At least he was getting mental reps. A lot of times, you tell a kid to do that and he’s playing with the trainers and hanging out.”
Fully healthy, Smith led Scotland County in tackles with 156 – including 22 for a loss – in 2014. He also recorded 4.0 sacks, five QB hurries, and an interception.
“Early on, he was just playing on instincts and really not getting the reads and the keys. But then, as he rep’d it and get better and better, by the end of the year he was just tremendous.”
North Carolina offered Smith earlier this month. He learned of the offer while on his way home from visiting Duke for the Blue Devils basketball game against Notre Dame.
“[Gene Chizik] was a little shocked that Carolina hadn’t offered him already,” Bailey said. “I think a lot of that was due to that he didn’t run great at their camp last summer. But, he was coming off his knee injury and was not 100-percent. But he ran – he wasn’t afraid to run.
“Coach Chizik was very upfront about how they want to make him the centerpiece of this recruiting class on defense – not only because he’s a great player, but because of his character and the way he prepares. They talk about changing the culture of the defense. He said, ‘We need more people like that – that are addicted to football and not content to rest on their laurels.”
The relative tardiness of the offer didn’t sour Smith on UNC.
“Coach Chizik was very upfront about how they want to make him the centerpiece of this recruiting class on defense..."
“It’s an offer I’ve been waiting on for a pretty long time,” Smith said. “I’ve been going up there visiting them since ninth grade year when they were recruiting Jaylend Ratliffe. Just growing up in a town that loves UNC, I knew getting an offer from there was pretty big.”
In total, eight schools have offered Smith. Boston College, Duke, East Carolina, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech, Indiana, and West Virginia round the rest of that list.
Smith’s conversed with Chizik when he offered earlier in the month and then again when he visited the school on Saturday.
“He talked about how he wants to turn this defense around with in-state guys starting off,” Smith said. “He thinks that I can be the one that helps turn this program around on defense, because they’ve always been known to have a good offense but they want to get it back to them having a strong defense.”
In addition to camping at UNC last summer, Smith attended the UNC-NC State game in Kenan Stadium in late November.
Besides UNC, Smith has visited Clemson, Duke, Georgia, NC State, and South Carolina.
“I’m just weighing my options and just seeing what school fits me and what I want to do with the rest of my life,” Smith said.
Growing up in Georgia – he moved to N.C. during elementary school – Smith is a Bulldog fan… In addition to Jaylend Ratliffe, who signed with Georgia Tech in February, Smith is close with Artemis Robinson, a linebacker at NC State… Smith is also a member of Scotland’s track-and-field team participating in the shot put and discus… Both of Smith’s parents work in the local sheriff’s office. Thus, as Bailey says, “You don’t have to about him off the field.”