Speedy Iowan Gets Visit from Mac

One of the top returning running backs in Iowa's Class 4A has traveled quite a distance in his 17 years, and now would like to add another destination… a Division I football program. He may get that chance sooner rather than later when a certain head coach makes the trek to his high school this week.

Cyclone head coach Dan McCarney likes what he sees in Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson two-way athlete James Smith, a native of Haiti who has spent much of his lifetime with his foster parents in the United States. Now it appears McCarney will make an in-school visit on Thursday.

"I think he'd like to stay in the Midwest," said Jefferson head coach Dan Strutzenberg. "If Iowa or Iowa State were to offer him, I don't think he'd have any qualms about going to either one of those. His goal is to play Division I football."

According to his head coach, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound speedster also has interest from Northern Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

What do coaches really like about Smith? Number one, it's his speed. Number two, his playing ability. Smith has twice run sub-4.4 40 times, including a personal best of 4.36. He intends on competing with the Cornhusker Flyers Track Club in AAU meets this summer as a sprinter in hopes of improving those times further.

"He's very aggressive," Strutzenberg said. "When he diagnoses a play, he's there and makes the tackle. You don't get away from him. You don't break a tackle. He's got great forearm strength as well, and is a built young man. He only weighs 175 pounds, but he benches about 275. He's got about a 36-inch vertical, which will help him in the defensive backfield."

As a junior, Smith earned second-team all-state honors in a crowded 4A class that included seniors Jason Scales, London Hayes and Greg Coleman. He rushed for 1,369 yards and 12 scores on 230 carries, averaging nearly six yards per attempt.

But Smith's future in Division I football could be on the defensive side, where he started at strong safety as a sophomore before moving to cornerback last season. Strutzenberg says he now intends to give Smith more of a look at corner this fall.

"It will probably be defense, although (Iowa State) Coach (Barney) Cotton came in and really liked his speed," Strutzenberg said. "But I really look for him to play defense. He's very quick and has great closing speed.

"Most people stayed away from him. They wouldn't run to his side because he was so quick, and they didn't really pass that way. He could take a bad step, but still make up the ground on anybody he covered. That's why at strong safety we could do some things, and they couldn't stay away from him."

Smith's inner drive and motivation also impress his high school coach. Most of that comes from his upbringing. Smith left his native Haiti with his mother at a very young age, only to see her pass away shortly after their arrival in West Palm Beach, Fla. He has never known his natural father, and since third grade he hasn't had contact with any members of his family.

Smith has spent much of his life in a foster family setting, and moved from Florida to the Omaha/Council Bluffs area after three years. It was there that he hooked up with his current foster family, which also has a son on the Jefferson team.

"He's the kind of kid that's overcome a lot in his life, and dealt with a lot of different things," Strutzenberg said. "He could carry a chip on his shoulder, but he doesn't do that. He's very motivated, goal-oriented, and wants to do well."

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