Fiesta Bowl Pits Friends Against Each Other in Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott, Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith

By Tim Shoemaker on December 30, 2015 at 10:10 am
Ezekiel Elliott on the field before the game against Michigan.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Shortly after it was revealed the Fiesta Bowl would pit Ohio State against Notre Dame, Buckeyes star running back Ezekiel Elliott sent out a tweet to Fighting Irish standout linebacker Jaylon Smith.

“See you New Years brother,” Elliott’s tweet read.

Not long after, Smith responded: “Let’s put on a show brodie.”

On one hand, it was a mutual sign of respect between a pair of superstar players and future first-round NFL Draft picks. On the other, it was a display of excitement between a pair of good friends.

“We’re real close,” Smith said Tuesday of his relationship with Elliott. “Throughout the recruiting process in high school, we kind of developed a relationship. We both played at the Army [All-American] game together so everything’s good.”

Smith and Elliott were each highly-touted prospects in the 2013 recruiting class.

Hailing from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Smith was the No. 2 overall rated recruit in the nation. He had offers from nearly every major program in the country, but wound up choosing to play for the in-state Irish. Smith said Tuesday his No. 2 choice was Ohio State, though.

Coincidentally, Elliott had some interest in Notre Dame before ultimately choosing to play for the Buckeyes over both the Irish and his in-state school, Missouri. Elliott said Tuesday Notre Dame was his “dream school” growing up, but did not choose to play there mostly because the FIghting Irish viewed him more as a defensive back.

They went their separate ways, obviously, but have remained in touch throughout their college years.

“We got to know each other in high school with all the camps,” Elliott said. “Jaylon’s a great dude and a great athlete, also.”

Elliott was also teammates with Jaylon Smith’s brother, Rod, for two years at Ohio State. Rod Smith was a running back for the Buckeyes before being dismissed from the team in the middle of last season. He has since bounced around a bit during his rookie season in the NFL.

The respect Elliott and Jaylon Smith have for one another was quite evident Tuesday.

“Best athlete we’ll face all year,” Elliott said of Smith. “He runs sideline to sideline making plays and you see how many plays he can make with his size. It’s very impressive.”

Added Smith: “I’d say it would be [Elliott] and [Christian] McCaffrey that are the two premier backs that we will have played. I think Ezekiel is a great running back. He’s more downhill, physical after contact and things like that so it’s going to be a great challenge.”

Smith, this year’s Butkus Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker, leads the Fighting Irish with 113 tackles on the season. He was an All-American and is projected by just about every analyst to be a top-15 selection in the upcoming NFL Draft should he opt to forgo his final season of eligibility — which is the likely move.

Elliott has already announced his intentions to move on to the next level after the Fiesta Bowl and he will leave Ohio State as one of the most decorated running backs in the history of the program. He’s the school’s second-leading rusher, currently with 3,812 career yards. This season, for the 11-1 Buckeyes, Elliott ran for 1,672 yards and 19 touchdowns.

They are two of the premier players at their respective positions in all of college football and potential stars when they both finally reach the next level.

As far as what’s going to happen when the two meet in the hole on New Year’s Day?

“We’ll see,” Elliott said, smiling.

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