At the rate he's going, Jacques Smith may be one of UT's best recruiters this year. That's saying something, considering the list of all-star recruiters that Lane Kiffin has culled from schools around the SEC and the country. It's a point that Dave Hooker noted a while back, but it bears another look.
Jacques Smith, the Rivals 4-star and Scout 5-star class of 2010 defensive lineman from Ooltewah TN started his journey as a Vol with a surprisingly strategic move: committing to Tennessee on National Signing Day for the 2009 class. In the excitement of that day, with all of the site updating and name tracking, I didn't see the reason for that at the time, but it's been made clear ever since. By announcing his commitment, the nationally-touted lineman was adding his name to the Vols' haul in the only way that he could. Securing the top player in the state for 2010 also reinforced the fence-building theme that Kiffin had espoused throughout his short time at Tennessee. The move was political and intended to show the strength in recruiting that Tennessee was bringing on a day when all eyes were on the recruiting process throughout the country.
Since then, Smith hasn't slowed down.
Nearly one month to they day after he signed, Jacques Smith wound up in the news again - answering questions about the significance of his visit to Alabama. Having one of your top commits looking at the campus of a rival is always a scary thing, but Smith was careful to first assure the Vols faithful that he was solid:
"Oh no, not at all," Smith said when asked if he was interested in Alabama. "That’s probably the last place on earth that I’d go to college."
Then he downplayed the significance of the offers made by other schools:
Smith appreciates the offers but feels that some schools are just offering him to persuade him to visit their campuses – either for junior days, summer camps or official visits this fall.
"I respect them," Smith said, "but it’s kind of like a bribe just trying to get me to come here."
Then he went to work - selling UT to the other recruits of the 2010 class:
"I try to persuade them over a little bit, just to see the good sides about Tennessee and the negative about the other schools that I’ve seen already," Smith said. "I let them know in advance without taking the trips."
Smith's number one target is clearly James Stone, an offensive lineman from Maplewood High. Though they should be natural enemies (lining up on opposite sides of the ball for two schools who will play against each other this fall), Smith is taking every opportunity to befriend Stone and to make him feel welcome in Knoxville. So far it's worked; when asked abou Smith, James Stone had this to say:
"He's really trying to sell me on UT right now," Stone said.
Even the high school coaches seem to be getting into the act. Unlike last year, when Ooltewah would line up Smith away from Stone, they hint at letting them go best-on-best:
"Last year it was kind of a cat-and-mouse game," Thompson said. "We would try to line James up on Smith and they swapped some things around on the defensive line.
"We're really looking forward to this year and seeing those guys go at it a whole game. I'd love to see that."
Stone and Smith agree.
Despite the budding rivalry, both players speak glowingly of each other and the battle that looms.
It's a beautiful friendship. And Vols fans should dearly hope that they love the competition against each other on September 25th (mark it on your calendar); if Stone has enough fun locking horns with Smith, he may well opt to do so on a regular basis - in practices at UT - rather than once a year elsewhere.
While we were all focusing our attention on Jake Heaps, Hooker again brought us some under-the-radar insight about Stone:
Smart Smith: Not only is UT 2010 commitment Jacques Smith a star player; he's also a standout student.
The defensive end from Ooltewah, who is considered one of the top 100 prospects in the nation, has every intention of enrolling in January at UT.
Smith already has 26 1/2 credits of the 28 necessary to graduate. His main focus will be on passing his core classes this fall to satisfy the NCAA Clearinghouse.
After selling the defense, Smith again assured us that he was working on Stone:
"Their scheme is really good and they really let their linemen loose," he said.
Smith said he's still trying to recruit James Stone to UT. The offensive lineman from Maplewood High was in Neyland Stadium along with Smith and running back Juwan Thompson from Woodward Academy in College Park, Ga., on Friday.
During the end of April, Smith kept in the public eye, attending the UT spring practices and making his desire to play known. Via Wes Rucker of the Chattanooga Free Press:
"I can’t wait," Smith said later in the day. "Days like this get me excited.
"I like to get up here every chance I get, especially on days like this. I just have this great feeling every time I’m up here."
He announced his plans to enroll early and assured us of his academic standing:
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound defensive end claimed to be "way ahead" of Ooltewah’s curriculum standards and hopes to enroll at UT in January.
"I’m trying to get a head start, cut that year off and basically be ready like a sophomore my first season," Smith said.
He even started referring to UT as his team in the present tense:
"This scheme is really good, and they really let them linemen loose to do what they do, because we have such a good secondary," Smith said. "We have so many secondary athletes like Eric Berry, so they don’t have to worry about the front four."
And his recruiting net continued to expand:
In the meantime, Smith said his attention was focused on helping the Owls to a big season and recruiting some of the Southeast’s best players to join him in Knoxville.
"I follow (recruiting) a lot," he said. "I’m really trying to look at players in Tennessee that we need to keep here."
The stories about Smith on the recruiting trail slowed down during May, but Jacques found other ways to continue to impress as Tennessee's youngest ambassador - his athleticism. First, he finished first in discus and second in the shot put in the state for AAA. Then he followed the athletic performance up with another academic milestone: announcing that he was clear to enroll early in the Spring semester of 2010. Amidst all the business of state track competition and crushing the coursework, Smith continued to sell UT:
"I’ve got a pretty busy schedule, between working, working out and making a few camps and visits," Smith said. "I love it every time I visit or talk with the Tennessee coaches. Coach (Ed) Orgeron tells me I’m going to be an All-American once I get up there, and I don’t argue with him. I just hope if I keep working at it that I can prove him right.
"I think the fact that so many of their coaches have NFL experience, when they tell you that they can get you ready for the next level, you tend to believe them. That’s why I wanted to graduate early and get to UT as soon as I could. I look at it as preparing for my career, and I don’t want to wait any longer than I have to to get started."
One the very first day of the month, we hear even more great news about Smith: he merely runs the fastest 40 time of his life at Good Old Rocky Top. Perhaps at a bit of expense of the Fulmer era, he plugged the Kamp Kiffin experience yet again:
"It was really hardcore compared to last year’s with the last coaching staff," said Smith, who is 6-foot-2 ½ "It was just so much more intense."
And was still pursuing Stone:
"I was really getting James Stone," Smith said referring to the Maplewood High School star. "I was talking to him a lot. I was telling him after practice ‘You need to go ahead and commit today.’ I know he loved it today."
Most recently, we now know that Smith will take his official visit during the Georgia game, when so many other recruits will be in Neyland.
UT defensive end commitment Jacques Smith from Ooltewah High School said he also will take his official visit for the Georgia game on Oct. 10. Smith is doing all he can to make the weekend a big one for UT.
He plans on selling the UT family like crazy:
"That will just bring the bond of the group together," Smith said after the Vols' camp concluded on Saturday. "If more commitments come, when they see that, they'll want to join in too. That's the whole thing, being one. Tennessee is a family."
And is even helping out with the offense:
"That's all we need is a quarterback," Smith said. "That will spark the offensive recruiting."
You have to respect this kid's motor. He's been knocking out the classwork, winning state titles in track, setting personal bests, dominating camps, selling UT, and taking every media opportunity to portray class and maturity. It's a rare combination to see in one person, so keep an eye on him. He may indeed be a very rare gem of his generation, both as a football player and as a person.