This month, OC Catholic presented the first annual Trinity League Athlete of the Year Award to Mater Dei High School’s Jed Smith, a standout in both football and wrestling for the Monarchs.
The award was presented to Smith at the Orange County Register’s Athletes of the Year awards banquet held on June 7 at the Marconi Automotive Museum in Tustin. The year-end awards are presented annually by the OC Register and OC Varsity to honor Orange County’s top high school athletes. This year’s event featured former UCLA and Lakers great Jamaal Wilkes, and former Angels pitcher Troy Percival, as guest speakers and presenters.
Director of Communications for the Diocese of Orange Ryan Lilyengren presented the recent Mater Dei graduate with the inaugural award. Smith was selected from a short list of outstanding Trinity League athletes as determined by the Register’s sports editors.
“We looked at each amazing athlete for the qualities we seek to instill in our students—humility, grace and a commitment to treat the vulnerable with Christian mercy,” said Lilyengren of the selection process and establishment of the award.
A key part of the Monarchs’ exceptional defense, the 5-foot-8, 182-pound linebacker led his team during the fall 2015 season with 95 tackles—including 15 for a loss—32 assisted tackles, five sacks, six hurries, one fumble recovery and four batted balls.
In only his first year as a starting middle linebacker, Smith was recognized for his stellar performance on the gridiron by also being named the OC Register and OC Varsity Defensive Athlete of the Year for football, the first Monarch linebacker to win the award since Matt Grootegoed was honored with the same title for his 1999 season. Additionally, Smith’s outstanding play resulted in him being named an All-Trinity League performer, and he received the league’s Specialist of the Year award.
Mater Dei head football coach, Bruce Rollinson, acknowledged the stingy defensive play, commitment and drive of his senior captain.
“Pound-for-pound one of the toughest kids we have ever coached,” Rollinson told OC Varsity of Smith. “Plays with a tremendous amount of heart, tenacity and has a knack for getting to the ball.”
Smith also represented the Monarchs on the wrestling mats, a sport he chose as a supplement to his football offseason training regimen. Although new to wrestling, Smith enjoyed the challenge and stuck with the sport, investing in the intense practices and workouts.
His dedication paid off, as the Orange County native dominated on the mat as well, earning several accolades over his Mater Dei wrestling career, including the upper weight MVP at the 2015 Downey Championship Wrestling Tournament.
With all of his athletic achievements, it is what Smith has accomplished outside of his roles as a football player and wrestler that distinctively set him apart.
“In speaking with Jed’s coaches, teachers and the Mater Dei campus minister, all said that Jed was even more impressive and excellent in his personal and academic life than on the field,” said Lilyengren of Smith.
In an interview with OC Catholic in January of 2015, Smith named his father as a significant role model in his life and acknowledged the impact his faith has had on being a student-athlete at Mater Dei.
“Faith plays a big role with Mater Dei athletics,” said Smith. “God does a lot for us, keeps us safe. We do everything for him. When you’re tired, and you don’t have a lot left to give, and you come out winning, you know God was there with you and helped you through that hard time.”
Smith’s commitment to excellence will take an exciting new path, as his next step is to head to West Point, New York, to begin studying and training at the United States Military Academy, a lifelong dream for the Orange resident.
New challenges and opportunities await him, but as the OC Catholic Trinity League Athlete of the Year award embodies, Smith will undoubtedly lean on his faith and character to guide him as he approaches this next chapter.
“No matter the great success Jed achieves, he puts others first and truly cares for the least among us,” said Lilyengren. “This is what it means to be an exemplary Catholic athlete—leading a balanced life filled with love, mercy and respect for others—always with Christ its center.”