"Some coaches and scouts were telling me I was a definite Division I quarterback. California, Arizona, Arizona State and New Mexico were all close to offering, but they all had other guys before me," said Smith. "Schools don't offer a lot of quarterbacks."
But Smith is not one to give up. He put together a highlight video and sent it out e-mails to "schools in big conferences" that he thought he would like to play for — and might be interested in him.
"I limited it to schools that fit my style," Smith said. "I didn't know anybody there, but I knew the SEC was the best conference in America and I took a shot. I also sent film to Vanderbilt and LSU. I know I didn't send it to Tennessee or Florida."
Smith never felt he was wasting his time even though he knew a scholarship offer might be a long shot even though he threw for 2,450 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior and ran for four more scores. He also only threw two interceptions.
"I was praying something would work out. I was kind of losing hope really. I was starting to look at different junior colleges, and I had Division II and Division III schools I could have gone to. But that was not for me. I knew if I wanted a shot to play in the NFL, I needed to play for a big team," he said. "Once the offer from Kentucky came, I was ecstatic."
Still, the drama was not quite over for the 6-5, 220-pound Smith, who plays at Birmingham Charter High School in Van Nuys, Calif. Kentucky was interested, but also originally thought he was a junior.
"They just thought since I was not signed, I must be a junior. They were shocked with how I could throw, my size and my arm strength. I also do know a lot about the game and can read coverages," Smith, who has a 3.7 grade-point average, said. "I thought they knew I was a senior because I had put that in the e-mail. But they might have caught it when they offered me. However, when they called, they had realized by then I was a senior."
Since UK coach Joker Phillips doesn't expect to have any scholarships available in August, that meant for Smith to play for the Wildcats he had to be willing to grayshirt — not play or attend UK in the fall and then sign a scholarship and enroll in school in January. It was an offer he quickly accepted.
"There's a chance I could still sign and come in during the summer, but coach Phillips said he thinks all the guys (who have signed) are going to make their grade. Even if one spot became available, he says they are in desperate need for a safety and would give a safety a look first," Smith said. "But if more spots somehow came open, then I would be ready to come in. What happens, happens. I am fine either way."
His plan now is to stay in California, take two courses at a junior college and work out with his quarterback coach — former NFL quarterback Erik Kramer.
"I am going to work out with my coach to get stronger and faster so I will be ready in January," Smith said.