Chasing an ever higher goal

As much as any athletes on the squad, Wesley Britt and Justin Smiley maintain the highest expectations for themselves. Given their drive and athleticism, it was no real surprise when both started getting pre-season All-America recognition.

Of course pre-season honors are nice, but what will they have to do to earn the post-season variety? recently put the question to offensive line coach Bobby Connelly.

"Really, they've just got to continue doing what they've done in the past to get themselves here," Connelly said. "They've got to continue to be workhorses."

That's the intriguing thing about the duo. Despite sharing Freshman All America honors in 2001 and All-SEC recognition last season, Justin Smiley and Wesley Britt continue to work as hard or harder than anyone else on the squad. "They're both leaders," Connelly said. "They're both hard workers. They lead by example more than spoken leaders. They do a good job in the off season. They've got great work ethics. They're dedicated to the weight room."

Britt comes from a family of athletic, highly competitive people.

Smiley of course gets plenty of recognition as a weight lifter, but if you visit the Alabama weight room at the right time, you'll spot the two of them side-by-side, lifting together and pushing each other to do more.

"Big Smiles" owns the position and program record for the hang clean, with a maximum lift of 440 pounds. He sat that record at last spring's Night of Champions, but next to Smiley at the adjacent station Britt set his own personal best on the squat of 635 pounds, just 15 pounds short of Bart Raulston's position record--a definite goal to shoot for in the future.

Besides also being named to the Playboy All America squad, Smiley has been named first team on both and pre-season teams. Along with Smiley, Wesley Britt also made the team 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.

As football players go, the two friends are about as down-to-earth and polite as you'll find. But don't think for a second that they aren't continually competing to be the best. "Those are awesome honors," Smiley said in an earlier interview. "It makes you feel really good to see your name start popping up on these preseason All America teams."

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. "Wes is strong in ways that I may need to improve and vice versa. Our strengths and weaknesses balance each other out.

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

Along with fellow junior Evan Mathis, Britt and Smiley have helped build the Bama line into one of the best in the nation. But if they want to earn national honors, Connelly says they can't stop pushing. "They both understand that there is room for improvement in all areas," he said. "That recognition will help them, understanding that they're not where they need to be."

With Britt looking on at the far right, Smiley sets the hang clean record at the Night of Champions.

Both players have become media savvy during their careers, and they're each quick to point out the difference between pre-season and post-season recognition.

Their goal is the latter.

"They've got to continue to work as hard as they did to get to this point," Connelly said, "and then carry it to the next level. They both have that desire to get better."

"It's important not to become complacent," Smiley said. "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."

How do you stop a 300-pound all-star lineman from becoming complacent?

Continually find higher goals, of course.

"Our goal as a unit is to leave the field every day better than we were before," Connelly said. "Then we come out the next day knowing that there is room for improvement. Everybody has got a weakness. We've got to improve those weaknesses.

"I tell the guys every day, ‘We're only as strong as our weakest link.'"

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