Can Tigers land another elite player out of Tennessee?
|Sunday, March 13, 2016, 9:14 AM- -|
Perusing the list of offers the four-star prospect has received is like scanning the final AP college football poll of 2016: Alabama. Stanford. Ohio State. Oklahoma. Ole Miss. Notre Dame. Michigan. To name just a few.
Smith – an agile 6-foot-5, 296-pound tackling machine out of University School of Jackson (Tennessee) – is rated No. 5 overall by ESPN.com. But he said he has learned to take such accolades in stride.
“It's a blessing, you know,” Smith told TigerNet. “Got to make an opportunity of it right now.”
Although Smith is still fielding nationwide offers, his interest in Clemson is marked as “warm” by one recruiting site. And he has been in contact with other 2017 recruits the Tigers have targeted, including quarterback Hunter Johnson of Indiana and two fellow Volunteer State products, wide receivers Amari Rodgers (who verbally committed to the Tigers in February) and Tee Higgins. He got to know several while participating in ESPN Recruiting's Under Armour All-American Game.
Smith cited Johnson, who flipped his commitment from Tennessee to Clemson in December, as “a big influence.”
“He's like the No. 1 pro-style quarterback (in the 2017 class). … He's just a respectful dude – there's just no other way to describe him,” Smith said of Johnson. “Very focused, not really a cut-up-around guy, though he can be. He has the qualities of a leader, and I can definitely see that in Hunter. And then Amari, that's just my guy right there.”
“They say as an athletic offensive lineman, just being so tall, I have the measurables – I can play guard and tackle,” he said. “So right now I'm really focusing on strength – just getting that better – and continuing my footwork and agility plays and stuff like that. … They said I could play any position on the OL, just based on how athletic I am.”
Smith also said coaches at both Clemson and Tennessee have suggested that he could fit in on the defensive line as well, if necessary.
“I don't really want to do that,” he said of playing defense, “but be it so, I can.”
Indeed, Smith's highlight reel at University School of Jackson gives the impression of a steamroller flattening opponents at will. As a junior this past season, on both sides of the ball, he recorded 140 pancake blocks, 53 tackles, and six sacks. He also recovered four fumbles and forced another four.
“(I'm) definitely an aggressive player – I like to bring a level of aggression to the field when I play,” Smith said of his style. “I like to finish people. I guess at the college level it's a lot harder, but ... (to bring) an overall effort, that's what I try to do, at my position on the O-line especially. You know, not giving up on a play, just keep going, maul guys over a little bit, but also just sort of (be) like a finesse guy with speed. Like I can hit you with power, but also I can get around the edge on you.”
He said his goal for his senior season starts this summer: “I want to be a final 5 (Nike +) Opening offensive lineman.”
Although he's visited Clemson several times for games, he said he's considering attending Dabo Swinney Football Camp.
“Not only to test my skills … but also to get coaching, I think that's very important,” he said. “And, you know, to see how (the coaches) interact with their players, and how it's like.”
Smith said sharpening the physical component of his game is a priority.
“This season, I just want to refine my technique – get a lot leaner, get stronger,” he said. “I guess get college-ready, because December's gonna come quick.”
He said that regardless of where he plays college football, he plans to enroll early, in January. He's weighing a major in sports management, with an eye toward working as a financial and life counselor for an NFL franchise someday – after his NFL playing career, that is.
Smith said the Tigers' recent success only bodes well for the program's future.
"Obviously they're on the come-up, I like to say,” he said. “Because they're competing on a high level, they went undefeated regular season, won the ACC Championship Game, beat their biggest rivals in the ACC like Florida State. I mean, they have to be doing something right. Like with the latest recruiting class, they've got some really good players – (DT) Dexter Lawrence, (OT) Sean Pollard, (RB) Tavien Feaster – they're getting the guys.”
He pointed to the $55 million football complex under construction as a prime indicator of the program's ascent to elite status, adding that during each of his visits to Clemson, the head coach's commitment and passion have shone through.
“What I always love about him whenever I go down there – he really emphasizes the players,” Smith said of Swinney. “He's all about his guys; he wants them to have fun. He wants them to enjoy the college process.”
And regardless of whether he suits up in orange, white and purple for the 2017 college football season, Smith said the Clemson coaching staff's words of wisdom will stick with him.
“I think the overall thing they say is that I can be a big-time left tackle one day, if I keep my head on straight, stay humble, you know. They all say I have the ability to play high-level football – not just in college, but at an elite level.”