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5-star in-state LB Smael Mondon Jr. is set to make his long-awaited college decision.

Smael Mondon Jr: Previewing a big 5-star decision on Wednesday

Want to attack every day with the latest UGA football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel brings. This entry offers a preview for the 5-star commitment decision from Paulding County LB Smael Mondon Jr. on Wednesday. 

DALLAS — When Smael Mondon (pronounced like”Smi-EL”) makes his college choice known on the field at Paulding County High tomorrow, there will be a lot of things to keep one’s head on a swivel about.

The 5-star LB will reveal his commitment at 8:30 or so on Fox 5’s “Good Day Atlanta” program. It will also be streamed live on DawgNation’s Facebook and YouTube social channels.

It will be on the field at Dave Hardin Stadium. Not inside the school auditorium or media center.

That is the 2020 ruling for social distancing when the nation’s No. 2 OLB (247Sports Composite) and No. 1 LB (pure 247Sports rating) decides where he will play college football.

This correspondent will spend a few minutes upon arrival trying to peg which specific parts of the “Remember the Titans” movie were filmed there. The Intel on that varies. That scenes and the big games from that popular 2000 movie were filmed all over Metro Atlanta, Northwest Georgia and also in Virginia.

But it will be impossible not to think about someone’s 87th birthday during the event.

It is impressive to see how Mondon chose to use his moment, even as so many have been taken from him this year, to honor his 87-year-old grandmother in West Africa.

“It was my mom’s idea,” Smael Mondon Jr. said. “I was trying to find out and pick a day to make my commitment and she said let’s just do it on this day. That’s what we went with.”

Helen Tape already knows where her grandson will play college football. She still calls the Ivory Coast home.

“She’s been a bigger part of my sibling’s lives but I still got a lot of love for her,” Mondon Jr. said. “That’s why I put my commitment day on her birthday. It is kind of like a gift for her.”

Mondon will have his five finalist hats out on a traditional ceremony table. Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee will be represented.

When he makes his choice, it might be the only thing that seems normal. This year has been far from it. His senior season was cut short by a recent cleanup knee surgery (meniscus) and that seems common for how uncommon this year has been for so many people. Not just 5-star recruits.

“It was just another thing for me to overcome this year,” he said.

The most celebrated football recruit in Paulding County history will not get to get on any unofficial visits or official visits. Or play in the All-American Bowl. Not in the midst of the global pandemic. There weren’t 60-70 schools stopping by spring practice. No SEC head coaches or assistant coaches could travel to catch Paulding County games this fall.

Those things were missed, but in context, they seem small. There was a week this year where his Patriots lost their short snapper and long snapper to contact tracing before they got on the bus for a two-hour ride before a Friday night game. The infrared no-touch thermometer has replaced the practice plan and whistle as the most important accessory for any high school coach.

“We’ve got a 5-star and a [AJC] Super 11 pick who is only the second one in the history of this county and you don’t hear a lot about it because nobody is allowed to do anything or come see him on Friday night because everyone is worried about a quarantine,” Paulding County coach Van Spence said. “Then the knee. Then the All-American Bowl. All the stuff we should be celebrating for a young man like Smael and we don’t get to.”

“It has just been tough, but Smael has been fine with it. He hasn’t really alluded to it. Maybe when he gets a little older he can look back and realize he didn’t get to go to San Antonio and all of that stuff. But the opportunity he is going to get to go play college football will maybe take some of that sting away from it. It could be in Sanford Stadium or Jordan-Hare Stadium or wherever he winds up going.”

Smael Mondon Jr. of Paulding County High School will make his college decision on Wednesday morning. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

5 quick things to know about the Smael Mondon Jr. decision

Mondon said on Monday afternoon that he has made his decision. He is good with it. Even Mrs. Tape out in West Africa knows.

  • It was largely his decision. The school that earned his commitment already knows his college decision. “They were happy,” he said. 
  • He said there was no magic moment where the school he was going to choose crystallized in his mind. It was a gradual process. “When I knew, it was a weight off my shoulders,” he said. 
  • Mondon was expected to take a self-guided visit to Knoxville to check out the Tennessee game this past weekend but opted not to go. With that game postponed by COVID-19 tracing, he saw no need to make the trip. “Not since the game got canceled,” he said. 
  • The Paulding County senior will early enroll at the school of his choice in January. As far as the knee goes, he should be ready to begin off-season workouts without a large degree of limitations. He only wears a knee brace now when he is rehabbing or working out with his trainers. “I’ll be ready to go in January,” he said. 
  • The 6-foot-3 senior is down to about 210 pounds. He’s rated as an OLB by the recruiting services, but all of the schools recruiting him feel he will be an ILB on Saturdays. Paulding County coach Van Spence thinks he can play either ILB or OLB. He’s just that gifted of an athlete. 

With everything he’s missed out on over the last eight months, he holds no ill will or frustrations.

“I just move on past it,” Mondon said. “I try not to dwell on it or anything like that. It will only make that feeling worse.”

He’s choosing to use it as a positive. To make the most of what he will get to do in college.

“I feel like it will just serve as some extra motivation to work harder,” he said.

Smael Mondon Jr. is a splendid athlete. He routinely reset the triple jump record at Paulding County High School every spring. He will be a linebacker in the SEC. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

Smael Mondon: A senior All-American year no one expected 

Mondon only played in about two-and-a-half games this year. He did not know the last play of the Chapel Hill game on Sept. 17 would be the final moment of his varsity career. His surgery was back on Sept. 28.

That last play came in overtime. It was a high snap on a two-point play. Paulding County went for the win, but that high snap ruined that bid.

“I didn’t know it was my last play or game,” he said. “After the game, it didn’t feel bad or anything like that. It was just like a family decision.”

He said his knee started to bother him a month before the season began.

“I didn’t really show too much this year since I only played in the first three games and I was banged up for most of those games,” he said.

He tried to fight through it. Mondon said he was about 70 to 80 percent those first few weeks.

“I got hurt like a month before the first game,” he said. “I played for a couple of weeks and I figured I better just get the surgery now before letting it turn into something worse.”

What’s the one thing he wished he could have back from an unexpected senior year?

His answer wasn’t the All-American Bowl. Or college visits. It was getting a chance to wear that No. 4 a few more times for Paulding County.

“I didn’t play much at all,” he said. “So probably just playing.”

Did you know the weekly “Before the Hedges” program is now available as an Apple podcast? Click to check it out and download it. 


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