Jaylon Smith

Dallas Cowboys middle linebacker Jaylon Smith (54) looks on as the Cowboys play against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFL football game in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 20. Smith, a Fort Wayne native, will be the guest speaker at this year’s Kendallville Area Chamber of Commerce banquet on April 23.

KENDALLVILLE — Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith will be coming home to northeast Indiana in April as the headliner of this year’s Kendallville Area Chamber of Commerce annual banquet.

The annual banquet has a history of booking big-name speakers, especially athletes, and Smith will be no exception to this year’s event.

Smith was a standout football player at Bishop Luers High School in Fort Wayne and received the nationwide Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in the country. He was Indiana’s Mr. Football in his senior year in 2012.

Highly recruited, Smith stayed in Indiana and attended Notre Dame, where he continued his high-level of play at linebacker and won the Butkus Award at the collegiate level in his junior year in 2015.

In the final game of the season, the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, Smith suffered a catastrophic knee injury, tearing both his ACL and MCL, requiring reconstructive surgery. Despite the injury, Smith opted to forego his remaining college eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

Originally forecast to be a potential Top 5 pick in the 2016 draft, worries about his knee caused his draft stock to fall. He was selected in the second round, 34th overall, by the Dallas Cowboys.

The pick has worked out pretty well for both sides.

After sitting out the entire 2016 season, Smith recorded 81 tackles in a mixed starting/backup role in his first season in 2017. In a starting role in 2018, he notched 121 tackles as well as four sacks.

This past season, after signing a $64 million extension with Dallas through 2024, his numbers improved again to 142 tackles — tied for sixth most in the NFL — and 2.5 sacks and was selected to his first-ever Pro Bowl.

But off the field, Smith has also been active in promoting youth entrepreneurship. He founded the Jaylon Smith Minority Entrepreneurship Institute, which in 2019 had its first Indiana Showcase, in which five finalists competed to win $300,000 in startup money and business support to launch their own ideas.

Three years after leaving Notre Dame, Smith went back to complete his bachelor’s degree in film and television.

He’ll headline the annual chamber dinner on April 23 at 6 p.m. at the Kendallville Event Center.

That event will also include recognition of the business of the year, industry of the year and the citizen of the year, along with a catered dinner.

Tickets are $65 for chamber members and $85 for non-members. Students can attend for $40. Tables of eight are available for $520 each.

Sponsorship opportunities, which include a VIP meet-and-greet, are also available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

For tickets or more information, contact the Kendallville Chamber at 347-1554.

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