Terry Hoeppner has some holes to fill and with the Feb. 1 signing day looming, the sooner he can fill them the better.
One spot of focus this offseason for Hoeppner and his staff has been at the linebacker position where Indiana lost Kyle Killion, Josh Moore and John Pannozzo. Killion started 34 straight games for the Hoosiers and finished sixth on the school's all-time list in tackles, while Pannozzo made 52 tackles in 2005 – his only season at linebacker.
The Hoosiers already have two commitments at the position with Matt Mayberry and Will Patterson, but hope to add one more in the form of JUCO transfer Vernon Smith from Butler County Community College in Kansas. The 5'11" 230-pound linebacker has drawn recent attention from Hoeppner himself.
"I'll be at Indiana this weekend," said Smith. "Coach Hoeppner called and invited me for the visit.
"I play inside linebacker and Coach Hoeppner told me he's looking for a linebacker who can come in and play a lot of minutes. I told him that's what I'm looking for. I want to go somewhere I can come in and play."
The 68th-ranked linebacker nationally according to Scout in 2004, Smith originally committed to Pittsburgh out of high school, but a low test score landed him at Butler where he has spent the last two seasons as a starter for the Grizzlies. In his two seasons at Butler Smith has already earned an associates degree.
"I've been at Butler County for two years and it's helped me out a lot," said Smith. "It's been a real learning experience for me. Out of high school a lot of schools stopped talking to me because of my SAT scores, but now that's not a concern."
Butler is 20-3 with Smith on the roster and reached No. 1 in the NJCAA during the 2005 season. Smith, who played his prep football at Ft. Lauderdale, Florida's Dillard H.S., led the team in tackles in 2005 with 75 tackles and also had 8 sacks. In 2004 he had 44 tackles and 2 sacks.
Smith has drawn little attention from the Big Ten and may make Indiana his lone visit before signing.
"I don't know all that much about Indiana," said Smith. "I've only seen them one time and that was on TV last year. I don't know too much about the Big Ten really, either. Out of high school Iowa was recruiting me, but that's about it.
"I don't know if I'm going to make any more visits after Indiana. Kansas State has been talking to me lately, but I don't know if I'll be visiting them."
The possibility of Smith filling the holes left by graduation in the Indiana defense could turn out to be mutually beneficial for him and Indiana.
"I know how Indiana has some holes to fill," said Smith. "Coach Hoeppner told me what he needs and it really opened my eyes to their program.
"I'm hungry right now. I'm ready to play big-time football. I've been waiting a long time for this. I plan on making a big impact right away. From the first practice to the last game."
Highly Ranked JUCO Linebacker Visiting IU
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