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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, June 09, 2018 1:00 am

Smith brothers excited about their camp, Cowboys

STEPHEN HUNT | For The Journal Gazette

If you go

What: Smith Brothers Earn Your Stripes Football Camp

When: July 6

Where: Saint Francis

Who: Free to kids ages 7-13

Registration: 8 a.m.; camp from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Information: https://awpsports.leagueapps.com/camps/666595-smith-brothers-earn-your-stripes-football-camp

FRISCO, Texas – There was Jaylon Smith, in the middle of the Dallas Cowboys locker room showing his hometown some love.

On May 30, the Cowboys had their first media access during organized team activities, and Smith is someone the assembled media were itching to talk to. After all, the Bishop Luers product had 81 tackles, one sack and two forced fumbles in 16 games in 2017, his first season back from a severe knee injury suffered in his final game at Notre Dame.

As Smith addressed the press, he sported a gray Harding football T-shirt, the high school of his older brother, Rod Smith, a Dallas running back, making it appropriate the first question was about the upcoming Smith Brothers Earn Your Stripes Football Camp on July 6 at Saint Francis.

“Yeah, it's going to be great,” Jaylon, 22, said. “The atmosphere was lovely (last year) despite the weather. We're looking forward to just more excitement.”

Their first camp last year was rained out, but Rod, four years older at 26, envisions big things for this year's event.

“Hopefully Mother Nature is going to be on our side this year,” Rod said. “We've already got a lot of kids signed up. It's going to be even bigger and better. It's nice because you don't see stuff like that coming out of Fort Wayne. Just to be able to give back and just try to inspire kids, it's exciting for us to go back and see what the next generation has got.”

This year marks Jaylon's third with the Cowboys and after missing organized team activities in 2016 due to knee surgery and being limited in 2017, he's ecstatic over now being a full participant.

“I just think everything just feels better, from my motion to my quickness to my explosiveness to my overall knowledge of the game,” Jaylon said. “I had to take a year off from playing football, definitely some learning experiences that I had to go through, but I've taken everything in for sure.”

Since January, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Jaylon said he's added eight pounds of muscle and has gotten his body fat down to 3 percent. He also started his offseason regimen with a new twist – yoga. While in Fort Wayne, a yoga teacher visited him at home. Smith also did hot yoga in an 80-degree room three times a week in Frisco, where the Cowboys' headquarters is located.

“I fell in love with it, so that's going to be (my thing). When you're a professional, it's all about developing a routine, so from now on whenever the season ends, that's going to be the first thing that I do, is dive into yoga three times a week,” Jaylon said.

But how did he end up trying yoga in the first place? Well, he chalks that up to his curious nature.

“I was curious. I'm a Gemini,” he said. “I'm very observant and I just thought, hey, why don't I try to work on my flexibility more, learn how to breathe and how to really focus? That's something yoga provides.”

Jaylon's also mentoring younger teammates such as Leighton Vander Esch, a fellow linebacker whom Dallas selected 19th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft from Boise State.

“He's going to be a great addition to our linebacker room and our team,” he said. “He's a good kid and he's learning a lot from myself and Sean (Lee) already. It's our job as veterans to get them up to speed so they can contribute.”

During his 10-minute media session, Jaylon was asked if he'd be receptive to playing other linebacker spots than middle, where he made his NFL debut on Sept. 10, 2017, against Denver. And as expected, he said he'll do whatever it takes to help the Cowboys win.

“It's all about just being able to contribute to The Star and help us win. I'm a team player,” he said. “None of this (other stuff) matters if we're losing, so we're going to focus on winning every day.”

However, Rod's situation with the Cowboys isn't so clear-cut. Even after playing a career-high 13 games last season, one where star running back Ezekiel Elliott was out while serving a six-game suspension, Rod faces stiffer competition to keep his roster spot. But if the 6-3, 235-pound Harding product is worried, he doesn't sound like it.

“I've been going out there with a chip on my shoulder. I feel like a lot of people still sleep on me, sleep on my talent, what I can do and what I can bring to the game,” Rod said.

Of course, whenever Rod needs a little extra motivation, he can look to his brother, who has always pushed him to reach his full potential.

“Yeah, it makes you work even harder,” he said. “Honestly, we've always been that way growing up, seeing each other make a play and then going out and making a play for ourselves. It's always good to have that energy in the locker room with me.”