Smiley & Britt named Freshman All-SEC

Thursday's announcement that both Wesley Britt and Justin Smiley had earned Freshman All-Conference honors was a vindication of sorts. With junior Alonzo Ephraim's earlier designation as All-SEC, three of Bama's five starting linemen have now been honored. <br><br>But Smiley still isn't convinced Alabama is getting the respect it deserves. "To be honest with you, I don't think so. I take every chance I can to speak out about it.

"We're averaging about 230 yards a game; we're No. 1 in the SEC. And that doesn't happen without a good offensive line. That doesn't happen without good running backs."

"The publicity is very positive right now," Smiley continued. "After we started getting some yardage, people recognized us. At the beginning people wondered how good we could be, but now it's different. I don't know. It's kind of overwhelming at times to see that we've done so well."

Shown walking off the field following the UTEP game, Justin Smiley has developed into a powerful blocker from his quick guard position.

Playing with five first-year starters for most of the season, including three redshirt freshmen, Tide Head Coach Dennis Franchione has been pleasantly surprised by his offensive line's performance. "Back in spring practice, I thought we would be in trouble with the offensive line," he admitted. "A lot of the things you saw early, utilizing the shotgun, and that kind of thing, were designed to try to help our young line."

After starting all 11 games, Smiley and Britt were named to both the Coaches' and Knoxville News Sentinal's All-SEC squads. "It was a great feeling and honor to be Freshman All-SEC," Britt said. "We worked hard, but it's a team honor. You can't make All-SEC without great running backs. We led the conference in rushing yardage. It's a team game, and individual awards don't matter that much."

Smiley agreed, pointing out that in his opinion fellow freshman Evan Mathis deserved to be recognized, along with Alonzo Ephraim and Marico Portis. "You have go credit Alonzo and Marico. To me Marico is one of the best guards in the SEC, and he didn't get recognized. You have to give him some credit. But you give credit to everybody on the line."

Britt (6-8, 304, Cullman) started all 11 games at quick tackle and played 631 total snaps. He finished the season with 94 knockdown blocks, including a season-high 17 at South Carolina. "Early in the season there was some buzz about us," Britt said. "At first the offensive line was supposed to be a weak point of the team. I've lived off that. In every sport it's good to be the underdog. I think that helped us play better. We tried to change the tide on that perception, and that helped a lot."

Tide Offensive Line Coach Jim Bob Helduser has had the responsibility of bringing the young Alabama line along. "Wes is a great physical player," Helduser said. "When he gets on his block, he can be devastating."

Both Britt (#70) and Smiley (#78) arrived together in the fall of 2000. And after sitting out that first season, the two have started every game for Alabama as redshirt freshmen.

Smiley (6-3, 295, Ellabell, Ga.) started all 11 games at quick guard and played 701 snaps, the second-most on the offensive line behind Ephraim. Smiley also added a team-high 126 knockdown blocks, including a season high 18 at South Carolina. "This definitely was one of my goals," Smiley said. "It really doesn't change what happened during the year, but it makes you feel good that people realize the work you put in. People recognize that you're playing well. It's a great honor."

Back in the spring, Smiley set the weight room record for offensive linemen on the hang clean with a lift of 380 pounds and also set the vertical jump record with a 32 ½" leap. "What a competitor!" Helduser said of Smiley. "He's like a heat-seeking missile…When he gets there, he explodes."

Smiley and Britt also earned some national recognition as respectively the two were named third- and fourth-string Freshman All-America. But they see this season as just the first step toward greater things to come. Britt explained; "Now that we've gotten Freshman All-SEC, we're not going to stop working out. We've got to go to the next level. We've got to get better and make All-SEC next year. As a team we've got to make it to the BCS and go to a great bowl game. This will springboard into the off-season and next year. It'll give us momentum and make us want to work harder."

Smiley agreed; "That's very important. If you don't have a goal, then there's really no reason to do anything. You always set goals. Next year it will be higher to make regular All-SEC. Your goals get bigger every year."

Listed at 6-8, 304, Britt has excellent size for his position at quick tackle.

As part of his weekly routine during the season, each athlete spends hours in the film room critiquing his play. "The biggest thing for me is staying on blocks," Smiley explained. "I've come off the ball well this year. My initial contact has been good, knocking people off the ball. But I need to recover and get my hands back inside. Staying on the guy has been a problem. And working on the second level (beyond the line of scrimmage), getting to the (linebackers) and defensive backs. I need to work on that in the off season."

"I can get better in my pass blocking," Britt related. "I need to keep my shoulders square in pass pro. I'm real good now at covering up the defensive lineman. I can lock onto him and stalemate him. I've got good strength, but in pass pro I need to do that more and stay in front of my man instead of sometimes giving him the edge."

The Tide finished 2001 averaging 226.4 yards rushing per game, good enough to lead the SEC and 40 yards per game better than runner-up South Carolina. And taking a big step toward returning the program to national prominence, Alabama finished up tenth-best in the country. "It seems like we're not yet getting the credit we should, but I think that will come with time," Smiley said. "Everybody sees we're real young and maybe thinks it's a fluke or whatever. But we'll come out here again next year and make everybody believers."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Barry Allen of Alabama Media Relations contributed to this report.

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