DeSoto's (TX) Jalaysiya Smith, the second-fastest 100 meter hurdler in the Class of 2021 from the 2019 and 2020 seasons, has announced her commitment to the University of Southern California.
With a strong hurdle resume over the last five years, the Trojans seem to be a perfect match for Smith, the No. 15 ranked recruit on MileSplit's list of top 50 prospects in the Class of 2021. She chose the 2018 NCAA Outdoor Champions over other elite programs in LSU, Texas A&M and the University of Florida.
"I'm super excited! I told a lot of coaches in the recruiting process that I don't want to be a guinea pig," Smith said. "I wanted to go to a school where I know you've produced so and so -- and they've run so and so times. [With Coach Caryl Smith Gilbert], I was like you've produced some of the girls I've always looked up to, so now I'll be one of the girls that somebody else can possibly look up to."
There's no doubt, 2019 was a breakout year for Smith, as the DeSoto underclassmen netted major wins at the Texas Relays, the USATF Junior Olympics and Brooks PR. She earned an UIL Class 6A 100mH state runner-up placement, posting a wind-legal time of 13.42 for a new personal best -- it was also a US No. 6 and Texas' No. 7 all-time effort.
Currently, the senior also owns PRs of 42.14 in the 300mH and 11.77 in the 100m.
While Smith's outdoor junior season was mostly erased, the DeSoto hurdler also had a strong start to her indoor campaign with the US No. 6 performance in the 60mH (8.50).
USC has had an incredible history with hurdlers. And with the resumes of former athletes like Anna Cockrell, Chanel Brissett, Dior Hall and Mecca McGlaston, it's shown Smith that she can succeed under the limelight of Carol Smith, USC's head director of track and field.
* Smith competing at the 2019 UIL Track & Field Championship
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"The connection I have with her, she's like one of my aunts," Smith said. "I was just like, find that one coach that makes you feel like you're a part of their family and she did exactly that. Plus, I'm going to be very far away from my family so I'm going to need somebody that'll be that family figure to me."
Smith's relationship with her future college coach was important, she said, because she's experienced untimely loss throughout her high school career.
As a freshman, she experienced the passing of her coach at her first meet. And most recently, she lost her coach, Orlando McDaniel, in March from COVID-19 complications.
"I don't have much family out here in Texas, so the next best thing besides my mom were my coaches," Smith said. "If I ever needed anything or needed to talk to anybody, it was my coach. So, to look for that coach [I asked], what coach makes me feel like I can come to them for anything and that was Coach Caryl.
"I can call her right now and talk to her about anything, and I feel like that would have been the case if I went to her school or not."
When working with the Pac-12's Women's Coach of the Year, Smith will fully transition to short hurdles and sprints.
* Smith, after her silver medal at the 2019 UIL state meet.
"You look at most collegiate and professional athletes, they choose one event to perfect and the event I want to perfect is the 100-meter hurdles," she said. "I have so much fun with it... The short hurdles are muscle memory, strength, technique and fundamentals. I have a knack for that - I love it."
With her elite resume, Smith knew athletically she could succeed anywhere she chose, she said, so she had to pick a school that rose above the rest academically.
"You can't run track forever, so I need a degree that I will be able to fall on post-track," the senior said. "I did my own research when looking for schools because I knew what I wanted to look for. Academically, I wanted to look for a school that was good in communications... and USC was number one in the country, so that sold the deal."
For her final year with DeSoto, Smith wants to break 13 seconds in the 100mH, run low-41 seconds in the 300mH and break DeSoto's current 4x100m relay national record (44.44), set by her squad in 2019 to win another ring.
The hurdler credits her faith, hard work and competitive nature for allowing her to be in reach of such elite goals.
"It's been plenty of nights where I said I didn't want to do this anymore just because I was tired," Smith said. "Then that little voice in the back of my head always said, 'this girl wants to beat you' and I don't like to get beat. So I listen to that voice and I get up and do my late night abs, I get up and always choose to eat healthy or I always choose to stay up a little later and do an at-home workout. That extra grind pushes me."
As she prepares for this final curtain, Smith has a message for young girls who also dream of being on the biggest of stages: The grind starts now.
"Do not wait until senior year, or junior year to put in that work," she said. "Put in that work now. Don't wait till tomorrow, do everything you can do at this moment in time because tomorrow isn't promised."