While University of Arkansas head football coach Bobby Petrino is not sure how many true freshmen will play in Saturday night's season opener against Tennessee Tech, he is certain of two.
That would be defensive end Chris Smith (6-3, 230) and defensive tackle Byran Jones (6-2, 310), who both led their teams to back-to-back state championships in the final two years.
"We have a list of potential guys to play, a list of guys who we think we'll probably play and a list of who we will probably redshirt," Petrino said. "…That will be the first thing we address on Sunday."
"You always have a few guys where you say we he is probably a back up, but we want to hold his redshirt like we did last year with (offensive lineman Alvin) Bailey," Petrino added. "There is a couple of guys that will play for sure – Byran Jones and Chris Smith. They have got to go now."
That's music to the ears of former Mount Ullah (NC) West Rowan standout, who was one of the first commits of the 2010 class and never wavered from his pledge even as other schools came after him hard late.
"It's just a blessing," Smith said. "I prayed every day to get a chance to play in the SEC. I just love Arkansas. People say it is so far away from North Carolina, but it just feels like North Carolina to me. I feel right at home. I am just blessed and I can't wait until the season starts."
Smith, who is listed as a third-team defensive end but is clearly going to be used on passing downs, has bonded with defensive ends coach Steve Caldwell.
"Coach Caldwell is a country coach," Smith said. "He is a hard-nosed coach and he stays on me hard because he says he wants me to be ready to play to play this fall. He is a real old school coach and I like that. That is where I come from is the country. He helps me out a lot and I am going to love working with him."
Caldwell likes what his new pupil brings to the field – a burst that hasn't been seen from a Razorback pass rusher in a long time.
"…Every once in awhile you see him come off the edge and he knows what to do and he is dynamic," Caldwell said. "He is going to be able to help us this year. It is my responsibility to make sure he is ready to go."
Indeed Smith is a young man who made his name harassing high school quarterbacks.
He had 25 sacks and 44 hurries as a junior, 16.5 sacks and 36 hurries as a senior and over 200 tackles those two seasons for a program that won 30 straight games.
"Winning is all I have ever known and I want to continue that here at Arkansas," Smith said. "I know we're going to do that and I intend to help these guys."
But he knows getting after college quarterbacks is going to be much tougher than prep ones and thus is listening closely to Caldwell.
"Coach Caldwell has been teaching me some moves," Smith said. "I have adjusted well to his coaching, fitting in well and now I am running reps with the second team."
He is also been taken under the wings of older defensive ends Jake Bequette and Damario Ambrose.
"Basically in high school, I had good get-off, but now in college I have to have faster get-off," Smith said. "Jake Bequette has been teaching me that is half the battle – getting off the ball. I have also been working on my stance and my footwork.
"Coach Caldwell teaches us a lot of footwork and that's really big at this level," Smith added. "I am just trying to learn from the older guys like Jake and Damario Ambrose and be coachable."
He's also learned during preseason practice to not look ahead and just to focus on the next day.
"They give us a little itinerary and I could look ahead, but I don't," Smith said. "If today is Wednesday, I only look at Wednesday."
But he will admit to spending a minute or two thinking about Saturday night and getting into a game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium – something he saw on his official visit during the Razorbacks' 63-27 win over Eastern Michigan last season.
"It's going to be crazy just like it was last year," Smith said. "But the great thing is I am going to be out there helping us win instead of being in the stands as a fan. I can't wait."
Chris Smith at last season's Arkansas-Eastern Michigan game.
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