US ARMY GAME: Learning Lab For Andre Smith

SAN ANTONIO --- For Andre Smith, this is a learning experience. The introspective offensive tackle from Birmingham (AL) Huffman is using the US Army All-American Bowl as his own personal laboratory and he's taking meticulous notes that he will be using in the upcoming months as he continues to prepare to play Division I football.

(Andre Smith profile)

"My experience here has been great," said the 6-4, 315-pounder, a five-star offensive tackle who is rated the best at his position in the country and the number two overall prospect by "I'm having a lot of fun going against the same caliber of players every day in practice.

"I'm using this game as a measuring stick to see how far I have to go to get ready to play Division I football. I'm going to use this week to learn what I need to work on."

There are some experts who think the only thing lacking in Andre Smith's game is experience. He's already a polished, punishing run blocker and he's got the quick feet that tell you he will have no problems learning to handle quick defensive ends at the next level.

He hears all the talk about how he could and possibly will start as a true freshman at the next level, but he doesn't let those thoughts dominate. He's on a mission out here and the mission is to get better.

"The practices are already showing me what I need to work on as far as drive blocking and pass blocking," he said. "I have a lot of areas that I can improve and this game is really helping me know what are the strengths and weaknesses in my game."

He believes his strength is drive blocking but even that area requires some concentration and practice to shore up an area that could be problematic at the next level.

"I need to stay low consistently," he said. "In high school I could just dominate people because I was bigger and stronger than they were for the most part but here, I'm going against guys who are my size or bigger."

At the high school level, he simply overpowered opponents. He rarely saw an opponent his size or even close to his ability. In Division I, where the players will all be at a higher level of ability, he understands that success is about leverage. The lineman who can get his pads under the pads of his opponent is the one who will dominate that play.

"At the next level, everybody is a good player," he said. "They wouldn't be in Division I if they weren't good players. They will all be bigger, faster and stronger. I didn't face too many people my size in high school, just someone every now and then. I've got to learn to stay low all the time and concentrate on every play. It's not like high school. You can't take even one play off in Division I."

Smith has taken a cautious and careful approach to the entire recruiting process. He refuses to be rushed into a commitment. Only recently he narrowed his list of favorites to six schools. He eliminated Miami earlier in the week when the Hurricanes fired four coaches including offensive line coach Art Kehoe. That leaves Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU and Southern California as the finalists for this Parade and USAToday All-American.

He has already visited Miami and Southern Cal and has LSU scheduled on January 13 and Florida State on January 20. He will take his fifth and final visit on January 27 to either Alabama or Florida. He's talked recently that he doesn't have to visit Alabama since he's already been there so many times on unofficial visits and the school is just 60 miles west of Birmingham so the Gators could get that last chance to lure this big guy.

Smith is very cautious about letting on which schools stand out more than others. The reserved approach is probably the result of his parents' heavy involvement in the recruiting process.

"The entire recruiting process has been a great experience for me," he said. "I've actually had fun throughout it all. I've been to some great places and met so many nice people.

"I've been helped so much by having two parents at home who have taken an active role in recruiting so they screen all my calls as far as who I am talking to. We talk over everything that happens, too, and because of that, this hasn't been a burden."

Because he is considered the top recruit in the state of Alabama, he is considered a must-get recruit by both Alabama and Auburn and there is plenty of speculation that when all is said and done, he will choose Coach Mike Shula and the Crimson Tide. He insists that he doesn't feel any pressure to remain in the state.

"I just haven't felt it," he said. "That's probably because of the way we're handling things at home. Having my parents so involved has helped and they've set the rules on who we talk to and when we talk. That's made a real difference."

FINAL THOUGHTS: This is an articulate, well-spoken young man who will NOT make up his mind until he's made his visits and spent a long time talking over the pros and cons of each school with his parents. I believe him when he says that he will give fair consideration to each school. I believe that he's looking for the place where he feels he fits best and will have the best chance to play football and grow as a person. I think that Alabama is the team to beat because of the relationship Andre has developed with Mike Shula. I think Florida is closing hard and may have a far better chance than what I expected when we arrived in San Antonio. Florida's chances are going to rest on the relationship between Andre and his parents with Urban Meyer and Andre's growing relationship with Tim Tebow and Carl Johnson. These three guys have formed a real bond and it is a growing friendship that can't be discounted in the recruiting process.

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