As soon as Corona (Calif.) Centennial cornerback Jaden Mickey stepped foot on a football field, he was prepared for what he would be faced with. That is an approach that the Notre Dame commit's father, Lamar Mickey, made sure of at a very young age.
From scouting opposing youth football quarterbacks to working on his speed in the offseason with USA track and field coaches, Mickey has put the work in to ensure that no stage is too bright.
As a youngster, Mickey took on double duty playing offense and defense in addition to return punts for most of his football career, and the 5-11, 175-pound Fighting Irish pledge is continuing that throughout his junior season. Right now, the Huskies are 2-0 after logging 50-0 victory in the spring opener and a 63-6 win in week two. Mickey played a large part in that effort by shutting down his side of the field and adding a punt return touchdown before the game wrapped up.
With offers from programs such as Georgia, USC, Oregon, Nebraska, Michigan State, Northwestern, Arizona State and Utah among others, Mickey virtually had his pick of where he could play college football.
Instead, Mickey decided to carefully evaluate his options in order to find the perfect fit. While many prospects tout education as a pivotal aspect of their college decision, few recruits look as seriously into the academic portion of their future school as Mickey did.
“Between Notre Dame and Cal, Cal came out and Coach [Justin] Wilcox said we are just going to present the facts,” Lamar Mickey told Irish Breakdown. “It's funny because [Brian] Polian came on, and he was like I'm just gonna present the facts. At that particular time, I think in Jaden's mind it was between Northwestern, Notre Dame and Cal. I think Cal was in there strictly because it's just close to home.
“Basically, Notre Dame came in,” the elder Mickey continued. “Polian was awesome. I think he made my son self-reflect on some things. He said things like, 'Jaden, you've have a 3.7, 3.8 your entire life. You didn't work hard in the classroom to go to a school like Arizona State.' It was funny. He was like, 'Okay, I see your final four. Cal, good education. Northwestern, great education. Notre Dame, great education. Oregon? Ehh, I don't know.' So, those things helped him see [his decision] from a different perspective.”
Those four schools were all major factors in Mickey's recruitment before he committed to Notre Dame on March 14. Prior to that time, Mickey named Northwestern, Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame to his top group, so each program was thoroughly in the running to earn his verbal pledge, but it was the comprehensive, all-around benefits that he would be afforded at Notre Dame both in school and post-grad that helped persuade the four-star recruit to pick ND.
“We met with Coach [Mike] Mickens and Coach [Marcus] Freeman, and I think he felt like he developed some insight into the school and their goals and their plans for the defense,” Mickey mentioned. “He thought that was a good fit for what he wants to do, then overall when we break it down and talk about education, networks and things that the other schools didn't have like playing on T.V. All the time... We talked about the four for 40. This is a lifetime opportunity, and it's been amazing thus far.”
The elder Mickey went on to mention that the network of the Notre Dame alumni is wide-reaching and that the family already has a long list of ND grade within their close circle of friends. From former Business majors to members of the entertainment industry to attorneys, a Notre Dame alum is not far away, and the 2022 prospect sought out guidance from those that attended school there.
As part of his research, Mickey wanted a look into how the defensive back depth chart would shape up during his time on campus. Northwestern said it was looking to take two to three cornerbacks. Notre Dame said a pair of corners and safeties. Cal is looking at landing three corners in this cycle, and Oregon is also in the two to three range depending on how the rest of their class shakes out.
Once Mickey had that information, he felt more prepared to make his decision, which is a theme in his life both on the field and off. So when the time finally came, Mickey was on a Zoom call with Coach Freeman in addition to his parents. At the end of the call, the highly coveted cornerback spoke up and issued his verbal commitment, surprising his parents in the process.
“He felt it in his heart,” Mickey added. “The people felt right to him ... A lot of people say Notre Dame is an awesome school, but that cold, you don't want to go to that cold. So, I told Jaden that if you break down your offers, 80% of your schools it snows and rains. Cold and snow shouldn't be an issue.”
In the end, cold was not an issue for the Notre Dame commit, and he joined what is now the No. 2 recruiting class in the country according to 247Sports.com. However, the learning process is not finished as Mickey has another Zoom with the academic staff at Notre Dame coming up in the near future.
Right now, Mickey is taking an extra class this semester at Centennial and will be taking courses during the Summer as well so that he is eligible to enter Notre Dame as an early enrollee. That is part of the plan for Mickey, who is hoping to taken an official visit to South Bend over the Summer before experiencing a home game later this year.
Whatever it takes to have a leg up on the competition, that is what Mickey is prepared to do. Whether that involves rigorous offseason training or taking extra classes to get to campus early, Mickey is ready for whatever challenge comes next.
And after accumulating 31 tackles, 11 pass deflections and six interceptions as a sophomore, Mickey is looking to push for another successful campaign with Centennial before he heads off to Notre Dame.
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