NDP’s Jake Smith wins national player of the year in football

From left to right: Gavin Smith, James Smith, Jake Smith, Josh Rosen and Tina Smith. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Standing at the center of a clapping and cheering vortex of Notre Dame Preparatory student-athletes, media members and other community members, Jake Smith accepted a trophy that he didn’t fully comprehend in the moment.

Smith — a running back/wide receiver for NDP and University of Texas commit — accepted the trophy for the Gatorade Player of the Year in football from Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen, who Smith had just watched play Sunday, Dec. 9 in Glendale. Rosen surprised Smith during his advanced P.E. class.

At the time, he thought it was just for the Arizona player of the year recognition. Once the media walked in, Smith decided to read what the trophy was for exactly, that’s when it dawned on him.

“I was like ‘oh! That’s the national trophy,’” he said. “It was just a whirlwind of emotion. I was shocked. I was really shocked.”

Smith made history Tuesday, Dec. 11 when Rosen awarded him the player of the year trophy. Not only was he the first player from NDP to win the Arizona player of the year honors but he was the first from Arizona to win the national recognition.

This award came as a surprise to Smith, but not to his parents. His father, James, said he had to sit on the information for a week and a half as well as convince his son the camera crew following him around was not a big deal. Smith bought it.

Gatorade gives a player of the year award out to high school athletes in a variety of sports at the state level. A national winner in each sport is selected from the group of state winners.

Jake Smith (right) shakes hands with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen (left) after accepting the Gatorade National Player of the Year award from him. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Smith is now eligible for the Gatorade Athlete of the Year, which is a male and female selected from the 12 national winners. Winners of the awards are evaluated on athletic excellence, academic achievement and exemplary character.

When Rosen stepped into the NDP weight room, he said everyone was smiling and cheering except for one shell-shocked young man in the front row, referring to Smith.

“It was really awesome to give him this award,” Rosen said. “Awards like this are sort of an appreciation for all the work someone like that has put in on the field, off the field. I’m really excited for him.”

Athletically, Smith accumulated 741 yards on 100 carries for 15 touchdowns. He also hauled in 1,070 yards on 58 catches for 22 touchdowns. These statistics do not include the state championship game.

Academically, Smith has a weighted 3.33 GPA. In the community, he volunteers at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Catholic Church, St. Mary’s Food Bank Community Kitchen, Feed My Starving Children and the Miracle League of Arizona.

When looking at Smith as a whole, NDP Head Coach George Prelock said Smith’s humility and determination have been what impressed him the most.

“He’s an outstanding representation of our community,” he said. “That can be a lot for a 17-year-old kid but he’s handled it with pride, dignity and grace. He’s just outstanding.”

Tina Smith, Jake Smith’s mother, also points to his humility and determination as defining attributes her son emulates. As a mother, she said she’s been proud to watch him progress through his high school career.

“It’s been amazing,” she said. “It’s been surreal. It’s just been an awesome ride. He’s worked really hard and he’s just so happy. He’s been surrounded by amazing teammates and he’s just really had the time of his life. I’m just thrilled for him that all the pieces came together and he gets the chance to go on and play at the next level.”

Jake Smith leaves NDP with a solid legacy. Coach Prelock has referred to him as one of the best football players to attend Notre Dame Prep. This legacy is one that causes Jake Smith a lot of pride.

“I hope somebody else from this school can do it but I know I am the first,” he said. “It’s definitely going to mean a lot to me and my legacy here.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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