As Andre Smith sat in front of a large audience of friends, family and media, the table before him had three college caps. The schools making the final cut--USC, LSU and Florida. One school's hat was missing.
Smith gave plenty of props to the three other schools recruiting him during the last year, but as a humble and well-spoken young man he went to the point.
"As for me, I brought my own hat out here today. They're full of tradition, so I'm going down to the University of Alabama," Smith said as he pulled out a houndstooth hat from under the table.
The crowd was elated when the nation's top lineman pulled out the Paul "Bear" Bryant signature houndstooth hat and placed it on his head.
"It feels real good to stay in-state," Smith said. "I decided the day before yesterday. It's Bama. My mother, father, and I talked about it. We decided Alabama was the best university for all of us. I haven't even told the coaches yet. I am going to have to call and tell them. I'm sure they saw the announcement on TV."
The Trojans of Southern Cal were very close to receiving his signature, and coach Pete Carroll was the main reason the southern boy almost left the comforts of the home-state school.
"Runner-up was USC, then LSU, then Florida," Smith said. "USC was a close, close, close second. It was almost neck-and-neck. Coach Carroll is a great guy. He reminds me of my pastor. He is real out-going, he wants you to work hard, and he wants what is best for the team. They have a lot of fun out there. They laugh, joke and kid each other all the time. During the film session they always get Coach Carroll to go up there and give them a dance. Then a few players will dance. It's just a lot of fun."
Smith has become known as "The Man" among the recruiting circles. Many considered big Dre' a 'lock' for the Crimson Tide. Alabama was victorious in the end, but Smith never considered himself a 'lock' to stay in-state.
"When I out went out to USC I had a lot of fun." he said. "When I went down to Miami I had a lot of fun, and when I went to LSU I had a lot of fun. Everywhere opened up my eyes so they wouldn't be fixed on just Alabama. I got a chance to experience life at all the schools I was interested in."
"I have three other schools I really liked--LSU, USC and Florida. LSU--I had a great time when I went down for my official visit. Coach [Les] Miles is a great coach."
My first visit was to USC. It was so different out there. It was wonderful to meet the players. I got a chance to hang out with Reggie Bush and Matt Lienart."
"Florida--Coach [Urban] Meyer is a great guy. He loves God, and he was really honest when my family went down there. All were really good universities."
A strong relationship was built with the Alabama coaching staff in the early stages of Smith's recruitment and ultimately won his heart.
"Coach [Mike] Shula is great person," Smith said. He has great character, and he is a hard worker. We talked about him being down at Alabama, when he was a prospect, and when he was a player host. Everything clicked."
The recruiting coach is where it all started, and Alabama has one of their best coaches scouting the Birmingham area.
"Coach [Charlie Harbison] Cheese is a very funny guy," Smith said. "He thinks he is a ladies man. He loves to smile all the time. Every time I went down to Alabama I always had fun with him."
Smith is excited about the lineman in Alabama's 2006 class--Scout.com four-star David Ross, four-star Alex Stadler and three-star Taylor Pharr. He feels the offensive line coach was a key factor in his decision as well.
"I really like coach [Bob] Connelly" Smith said. "He is much like my offensive line coach here at Huffman. He wants you to come in and work hard. Nothing is going to be given to you. That is basically how they approached me about everything. The coaches have said they want me to come in and play left tackle."
"Everyone is going to work hard. Each person has certain things that they are good at. We are going to help each other out and hopefully be the best offensive line ever."
Smith's tenacity, drive, mean-streak, footwork, and technique will give him a huge advantage, but he knows he must get in the weight room before arriving in Tuscaloosa.
"I am going to tone up on everything," he said "I want to be more muscle. I know it's going to be tough, but I am really looking forward to getting in the weight room. I am currently 6-4 3/4, and I weigh 325-330 pounds."
Smith is on track to qualify and plans to arrive on the Alabama campus in July. He has goals set for himself and his teammates.
"I am going to be a great student-athlete, and I am going to work hard," he said. "I'm not going to predict anything right now. We just have to work hard. The goal is to win the SEC championship, and we will go from there. I am not going to predict the number of national championships we win, but that is our ultimate goal."