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MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Mater Dei linebacker Jed Smith is the Register's defensive player of the year. Smith was a first-year starter for the Monarchs, but quickly made an impact for the Monarchs.

Defensive player of the year: Mater Dei's Jed Smith was game-changer from start

STAFF WRITER

Among the Mater Dei behemoths – the 6-foot-whatever, 300-plus pound linemen – and the handful of skill players bound to play college football on Saturday afternoons, stands 5-foot-8, 180-pound linebacker Jed Smith, who physically looks like your run-of-the-mill high school athlete.

He doesn’t sport any wristbands. No tape. No gloves. A true throwback in an age of flash.

Smith is almost an afterthought at first glance, given his smaller stature on a team that perennially has one of the area’s most impressive lineups.

As he proved early and often, measurements never seemed to put any limitations on Smith’s production this season. The Monarchs’ senior captain was consistently the most disruptive force on a vaunted defense.

“Pound-for-pound one of the toughest kids we have ever coached,” longtime Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson stated. “Plays with a tremendous amount of heart, tenacity, and has a knack for getting to the ball.”

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Smith surpassed all expectations in his first season as a starting middle linebacker, and he earned the Register’s defensive player of the year award in the process.

“It feels pretty amazing to do something like this after one year starting,” said Smith, who becomes the fourth Monarchs player to earn the county defensive player of the year honor. “There were a lot of great players on this team. A guy like Curtis (Robinson) helped me out a lot. It’s a great feeling to receive this.”

As a sophomore and junior, Smith primarily served as a special teams warrior, seeing the field 10 to 15 seconds at a time on punts and kickoffs. As a junior, he accounted for more carries (12) than he did total tackles (10).

This fall, he burst onto the scene and led the team with 95 tackles – 15 for a loss – 32 assisted tackles, while adding five sacks, six hurries, one fumble recovery and four batted balls.

He is the first Monarchs backer since county legend Matt Grootegoed to win county defensive player of the year.

“Not playing a lot early on was one of the toughest things” Smith explained, referring to his years as an underclassman. “You come into high school being pretty good on your Pop Warner team. But (at Mater Dei) you find out real quick, everyone was good at that level. Everyone was the best.

“I came into it and I was a little small too, but I just kept working at it, trying to get onto the field somehow.”

Smith, who was third-team All-County in wrestling last year, bulked up in the offseason, hit the film room extensively, and worked his way into the starting defensive rotation for a Week 0 tilt against Bishop Amat of La Puente in one of the Southern Section’s marquee openers.

The nerves were there for Smith, but so too were the results. The Monarchs opened the season with a 24-21 win over the Lancers, as Smith helped manufacture a late fourth-down stop to seal the victory.

“That was the first big eye-opening moment,” he said. “That’s when my dream started coming true. You could say I was bleeding scarlet and gray before I could walk”

With several alums in his family, Smith grew up attending Mater Dei games at the Santa Ana Bowl, watching guys like Ahmed Mokhtar have the type of success that has become synonymous with the Monarchs program.

Born and bred in Orange County, Smith wasn’t shy about rooting against the Angels’ postseason push when the MLB’s regular season neared its conclusion. In his mind, October baseball jeopardized an opportunity to play rival Servite at Angel Stadium, something he had dreamed of.

In what was arguably his best game of the season, Smith earned one of his four Monarch of the Week awards in a 42-10 drubbing of the Friars.

“I was on top of the world that night,” he said. “It was a fantastic feeling to have as good as game as I did, make an impression and beat Servite our last year.”

Smith went on to be named an All-Trinity League performer, garnering the league’s specialist of the year award.

While his football career likely ended in 42-36 loss to Corona Centennial in the Pac-5 semifinals, the 182-pounder has dominated the wrestling mats in recent weeks, earning the upper division MVP at last week’s Downey Tourney.

On Tuesday, he officially committed to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. He plans to continue his wrestling career and fulfill his other lifelong goal: attending one of the country’s service academies.

Contact the writer: kconnolly@ocregister.com


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