FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Another workout complete, Jaylon Smith walks slowly, hands on hips, to the exit door of Athletes with Purpose Sports Performance, a training facility for many of Fort Wayne's top athletes in the past decade.
Before Smith reaches the door, he's asked to pose for a photo with an 8-year-old boy who shares the same first name. He smiles brightly, wraps a left arm around the boy and asks him a few questions. The youngster bounds off, his day made.
Smith may be the most high-profile football recruit to ever come out of Fort Wayne. At 6-4 and 220 pounds, the Bishop Luers senior is a specimen at outside linebacker or rush end, as quick and fast as most defensive backs. He's expected to contribute immediately as a freshman at Notre Dame, a program that will play for a national title next month against Alabama. Smith started on four Class 2A state champions and was also a key player at running back.
Those skills have earned Smith, 17, this year's Indianapolis Star Indiana Mr. Football award. He received 23 votes, ahead of Warren Central's Tim Kimbrough (11), Sam Schrader of Mishawaka (5) and seven others with three votes or fewer.
But Smith's ability on a football field hardly defines him.
This is also the same kid who also holds down a part-time job at Burger King, greeting customers at the drive-through window on weekends, driving his green 1995 Monte Carlo to and from work.
There isn't much glamour in serving Whoppers, though his job is hardly a source of embarrassment. He showed up to the first preseason football meeting in June right after work, still in his Burger King uniform.
"That shows part of who he is," said Bishop Luers coach Steven Keefer. "He's willing to go out and work for it rather than having anything handed to him. He understands what it means to work for something. That's why he is successful."
In the family
Smith is the first Mr. Football from Fort Wayne in the award's 21-year history. That fact is not lost on those who follow high school football in the state's second-largest city.
"It would have been sad to see a kid of his magnitude not win (Mr. Football)," said Michael Ledo, a Fort Wayne native who is the president of Athletes with Purpose Sports Performance. "He's probably the biggest recruit ever to come out of Fort Wayne. It's hard to be that good and that confident and people want to say that you have a big head or this or that. But you can't say it because it's not true. I'm marveled by how he handled it all.
"The first thing I think about with Jaylon is his humility."
Jaylon jokes that it was easy to be humble growing up. His older brother, Rod Smith, was a standout running back at Harding High School. The brothers played against one another in 2009, when Rod was a senior and Jaylon a freshman. Luers won the game, 14-8.
"That was a good week," Jaylon said with a laugh. "But I always watched him growing up and always looked up to him. I watched all of his success and took it all in. I wanted to figure out a way I could be as good as him or possibly even better."
By the time Rod was done, he was one of the most highly decorated high school players to come from Fort Wayne. He rushed for 6,625 yards and 66 touchdowns for his career, setting Summit Athletic Conference records. Rod signed with Ohio State, where he has been a reserve running back for two seasons.
Though Jaylon has played running back in high school -- he rushed 150 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-28 Bishop Luers win over Cardinal Ritter in the 2A championship -- he fell in love with playing defense as a freshman.
"I started at defense end and outside linebacker and my passion changed," he said. "(Colleges) asked me if I wanted to play running back, but my heart has totally flipped to the defensive side. I'd rather initiate the hit than get hit every play."
Smith showed off his jaw-dropping athleticism in the state title game. Running around the left end in the fourth quarter, he jumped over a Cardinal Ritter defender diving at his legs and picked up several more yards. The play came back, however, when the referee threw a flag for hurdling.
"I didn't know that it was illegal, but they explained it to me," he said. "A rule is a rule."
Said Keefer: "I've seen it called once in 42 years. The irony was that the kid was coming at his knees so (Jaylon) actually made the safe play."
Jim Huth took over as Luers' athletic director two months ago after longtime football coach and athletic director Matt Lindsay was fired for a violation of school policies.
Huth didn't know Smith personally before taking the position, but said he learned a lot watching him after a practice at Lucas Oil Stadium prior to the state championship.
"My son and I were talking to some folks after practice and walked into the locker room," he said. "Jaylon was in there picking up pre-wrap tape up all over the floor. He didn't have to do that. Nobody told him to do it. It just comes from a lifetime of being raised the right way."
Jaylon has a tattoo "sleeve" on his right shoulder that includes the Bible verse, "God is our strength and protection, an ever-present help in affliction." His oldest brother, Jordan, and Rod have the same tattoo. He expects younger brother Rondale, 11, will have it some day too.
"He's tough," Jaylon said of Rondale. "Middle linebacker. I can already tell he's going to be a good one."
Jaylon is already a good one. Potentially a great one. Time will tell.
"His ability to play pass coverage is unreal," said Luers defensive coordinator Matt Millhouse. "That's where he really excels. Right now he's about 220 pounds, but he'll probably add 15-20 pounds. At that size, and with his speed . . ."
Inside the AWP facility there are several words inscribed on the walls. Character. Integrity. Faith. Excellence. And then a question:
"What drives you?"
"God gave me this gift," Jaylon said. "and I just want to try and take advantage of it. I don't take it for granted. In my mind, there's always somebody out there working harder than me. But I'm striving to be the best I can be."