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Jahmir Smith with his 8-year-old brother Jaylen. Photo by Billy Liggett

Lee County’s star in the classroom and on the gridiron has full-ride offers from 35 schools (including all 8 from the Ivy League) 

As his mom runs down the list of talk shows and national news outlets trying to line up an interview with her son this summer — Good Morning America, Ellen, Today Show and (possibly) Steve Harvey among them — Jahmir Smith sits back on his couch next to his little brother Jaylen and shrugs.

“I mean, it’s exciting,” he says, “but I’m not really into TV. Doing those interviews. But it is what it is.”

He’s shy. Quiet. Serious. Determined. Beyond confident. But the one word that best fits Jahmir Smith — and it’s the word he leads with on his personal Twitter bio — is “humble.” The 17-year-old who has the world on notice for his rare combination of academic and athletic prowess doesn’t show an ounce of bravado, even when pressed to let his guard down.

It’s one of the reasons why 35 (and counting) colleges and universities — including all eight Ivy League schools — have offered him a full-ride scholarship. But the big reasons are in the numbers: 4.43 GPA. 25 on the ACT. 2,130 yards rushing as a junior running back at Lee County High School last year. An eye-popping 41 touchdowns.

They’re numbers that still make his mother Monique McLean, a nurse for UNC Hospitals, beam.

“One thing about Jahmir, if he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it the best he can,” she says. “And he’s going to be great at it.”

A STAR IS BORN

Paul Gay Stadium, home of the Lee County High School Yellow Jackets, was the site of Jamir’s breakout game during his sophomore year on Nov. 6, 2015.

Only, Jamir wasn’t wearing the blue and gold. Then, he was a second-string running back for the cross-town rival Southern Lee Cavaliers. In the nine games prior to that contest, he’d managed a modest 144 yards total all season on about 40 carries. Against Lee County, in the annual Brick City Bowl, Jahmir flashed his brilliance on the high school stage for the first time, running for 158 yards on 21 carries in Southern Lee’s thrilling 21-20 overtime win.

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 3.58.04 PMThe family moved to Broadway the next summer — the lease on their home in Sanford was up — thus putting Jahmir in the boundary for LCHS students. Southern Lee football fans knew they were losing a talented, smart kid.

“Man, I had parents contacting me, people offering to come and pick him up every day,” McLean says. “They didn’t want to lose him. But we were ready for a change.”

Jahmir became an instant starter in the Lee County backfield, and in his first game, he became an instant star. In a Week One 56-0 win over Warren County, Jahmir ran for 118 yards on just 10 carries, scored four touchdowns on the ground and scored a fifth time on a 69-yard pass from Jory Perkins. The following week, he posted his first 200-yard game in a narrow win over Ben L. Smith. In Week Three, three more touchdowns and 127 yards against E.A. Laney. In Week Five, he topped 300 yards rushing and scored three times in a 31-7 win over Northwood.

Jahmir has the size. He’s listed at 6-foot and nearly 200 pounds. But it’s a slim 200 pounds. He’s fast. One coach in his district described him as “shifty, with good vision.”

“It’s all about instinct,” Jahmir says. “You can be coached on a lot of things, but it’s mostly instinct. Running backs have to have it.”

Lee County enjoyed a 12-2 record in 2016, with their season ending in a heartbreaking 45-42 loss to Jacksonville in the quarterfinals of the Class 3AA state playoffs last December. Jahmir ran for 193 yards and scored five of Lee County’s six touchdowns in the game.

A month later, the recruitment frenzy began.

The first school to come calling was East Carolina, which produced star NFL running back Chris Johnson. Then Wisconsin, with its history of producing NFL backfield talent (Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon), offered Jahmir a full ride to head north. Then Stanford. Duke. Wake Forest. UNC. N.C. State.

N.C. State sent Jahmir a faux cover of ESPN The Magazine with his image photoshopped in a Wolfpack uniform. The headline reads “Homegrown Hero,” and the poster is signed with a “Go Pack!” by head coach Dave Doeren.

Those early offers made Jahmir big news in Sanford and the Triangle area. What got the world’s attention were the offers coming in from the Ivy League schools. All eight of them. The first came from Princeton — McLean said she almost wrecked when her son called her with the news.

The Ivy League love was especially important for Jahmir and his mom, because he says his choice will depend heavily on academics. He wants college to lead to more than an NFL career — he wants to attend medical school and pursue a career in anesthesiology or dermatology.

“It’s all because of my mom,” Jahmir says. “I’ve seen the way she talks to patients as a nurse. I’ve seen how she loves her career. That’s what I really want to do.”

THE BIG CHOICE

The headline from NBC News this week: Jahmir Smith’s Preference? ‘A School That’ll Help Me Be a Doctor First.’ From the News & Observer in Raleigh: His mom thinks he’ll be a doctor and NFL player. With eight Ivy League offers, he’s on his way.  From Huffington Post: Outstanding high school junior already offered 33 full-ride scholarships.

There’s also BET. The popular blog Scary Mommy. Báo Thanh Niên in Vietnam. These aren’t football sites.

“His story is in China and Korea. He’s everywhere right now,” McLean jokes. “I’m surprised the Sanford Herald hasn’t picked it up.”

Their home in Broadway is near the end of a cul-de-sac in a subdivision nestled among the trees off a road that begins with a “no outlet” sign. In other words, it’s quiet. Aside from the far-off hum of a lawnmower and the occasional passing car, Jahmir’s home is a perfect getaway from all the noise of the past six months. His summer is booked with a few recruitment trips, TV appearances and other interviews. He’s also planning to announce a school this summer — an announcement that will likely draw a ton of media attention … so expect a press conference coming soon. If Jahmir has a school in mind, he’s not showing his cards, despite what you may have read on some football recruiting sites.

“Oh, man. There are some scouting sites saying I’ve already picked my school,” he says. “Some of them are trying to predict it, but some are saying I’ve made my decision. I’ve never said anything like that.”

Oh yeah, there’s also a senior year of high school and a senior season of football to worry about. Lost in a lot of the noise is the fact that Jahmir still has games to play in a Yellow Jacket uniform. Lee County’s expected to be a Top 10 team in the preseason 3A rankings, and all eyes will be on Jahmir Smith every time he touches a pigskin.

You’d think this would amount to the weight of the world in pressure on a young man’s shoulders, but when asked about it, he delivers another shrug.

“I really don’t feel any different than last year,” he says. “Honestly. It feels the same. We want to win a state championship, and I believe we can do it. We’re not a perfect team, but I think we’re good. I’ve got great teammates and great coaches.”

— by Billy Liggett

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