Another Tide All-American

Somewhat lost amid talk of the coaching controversy and then search was news of pre-season recognition flooding guard Justin Smiley's way. <br><br>Besides also being named to the Playboy All America squad, Smiley has been named first team on both and pre-season teams.

"Those are awesome honors," Smiley told Wednesday. "It makes you feel really good to see your name start popping up on these preseason All America teams."

Smiley's good friend and line mate is also garnering his share of honors. Along with Smiley, Wesley Britt also made the squad as first team and was on the watch list. And of course Britt was named to the Playboy squad as well but chose to decline the honor.

Since arriving on campus together in 2000, the two have been good friends, even lining up and playing side-by-side on the Tide offensive line. "I think our success is because we complement each other," Smiley said. "He is strong in ways that I may need to improve and vice versa. Our strengths and weaknesses balance each other out.

Justin Smiley pass blocks versus Vanderbilt. Since his redshirt freshman year Smiley has started every game at left guard. (UA photo)

"It's unusual, but you can have two All Americans playing beside each other."

Of course all sorts of organizations come up with All-America teams, but the Playboy version has been around for almost a half century. Smiley first learned he was chosen from Bama's Sports Information Director, Larry White. But he later got a phone call form the sports editor of Playboy, Larry Cole.

"Mr. Cole told me that Wes and I were equally deserving offensive linemen," Smiley recalled. "He said we were considered among the Top 5 offensive linemen in the country heading into next season by a lot of different analysts. It was an honor to be chosen."

Smiley will be flown out to Phoenix, Arizona this Friday for an all-expense-paid weekend at the Tatio Cliffs resort. He and the other chosen athletes will be honored at an awards banquet, sandwiched in between some fun in the sun photo ops.

Given recent events at Alabama, Smiley is glad to change the subject a bit. "It's huge to have something positive," he acknowledged. "We need all the good publicity we can get as a school. I'm just glad that Wesley and I and some other guys can get some recognition and bring some positive light to next year's team."

Both Smiley and Britt are quick to point out that the third member of their junior trio doesn't receive enough credit for his talent. Along with right tackle Evan Mathis, all three players began together as redshirt freshmen starters in 2001. "If I ever got the big head, those two would definitely pull me back quick," Smiley said laughing. "Evan would definitely bring me down to earth. There was a time when something like this would get to me, but now I've got so many goals I want to pursue. I know those are not possible if you get a big head and start thinking too highly of yourself."

"It's important not to become complacent," Smiley continued. "We've got tons of improvement to do. There are so many things I need to work on. My main thing is getting downfield and finishing my blocks. I'm not where I need to be."

Smiley has always set high goals athletically. As a young boy he looked to cousin Dusty Ziegler, who played for the Buffalo Bills in the NFL. "Some of my childhood dreams are starting to come true, and it's an exciting feeling," Smiley said. "I used to read about all these guys on the various all-star teams and think ‘Man, that must be amazing.' But now it's starting to become reality. It doesn't even seem real.

Shown gathering his thoughts after practice, Smiley's ultimate goal is to perform at a high enough level so that when his career is done fans will think of him as one of Bama's best offensive linemen.

"I know what I need to keep doing. I've got to keep working and persevering."

Now juniors, Smiley, Britt and Mathis have pushed each other on the field and off from the moment they arrived at Alabama. "Our ultimate goal is to play in the NFL," Smiley said. "My other goal is to be the best guard in the country. Hopefully I'm on my way to achieving that goal."

With freshman All-America, All-SEC and now national All-America recognition, Smiley's name is clearly known around the country. He read a few months back where one writer referred to him as "the best guard at Alabama since John Hannah."

A student of college football history, Smiley is cautious in accepting that kind of praise.

He explained, "I've had people talk about me in the same sentence as other Tide greats like John Hannah, and it's almost embarrassing. More than being named to someone's All-America team, comparisons like that mean the most to me. To even be put in the same sentence as John Hannah or Chris Samuels is amazing.

"I would hope that someday people could breathe my name in the same sentence as guys like that. It's my dream to be legitimately be thought of as one of the great offensive linemen to play here."

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