BALTIMORE, Md. -- Maybe it's not good to question St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, Md.) junior linebacker Rahshaun Smith 's "physicality."
It's not like he has "rabbit ears," but he had heard whispers, on-line or on social media, that maybe he didn't always play up to his stout, 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame, or to a 2016 recruit with 30-plus offers caliber.
Despite a 48-16 loss to Gilman (Baltimore, Md.) on Sept. 26, Smith played the role of enforcer, racking up 11 tackles and four tackles-for-a-loss. He knocked one running back's helmet off, stonewalled Greyhounds four-star quarterback Kai Locksley several times, and, for good measure, scooped up a Gilman fumble and returned it 40 yards in the fourth quarter -- a play that required Locksley to run him down to prevent a touchdown down the sideline.
"Physicality. Physicality," Smith said of his greatest area of improvement this fall. "You know this year, and even last year, I had been hearing rumors....I'm big, but you know, I wasn't playing as big as I was, they said. So that's my biggest thing this year I am proud of."
Smith was all over the field at times against Gilman, dropping Locksley twice in the backfield on zone read plays, and on two other occasions clobbering him at the line on quarterback keepers for no gain. He also hit Gilman back Robert Levine so hard at the line that his helmet flew off a few yards backwards. And on back-to-back plays in the second quarter, he snuffed out and dropped Gilman's Jelani Roberts for no gain on a screen, and then the next play drubbed him for a 5-yard loss in the backfield before he could collect himself after the handoff.
"Yes sir, l got Kai a few times. But he got me, too," Smith quipped.
And the fumble return showed his good athleticism in his big frame. This year Smith moved to middle linebacker from defensive end/outside backer last year while at Calvert Hall. He both played well in run support and moving laterally in space to make plays, including running one down early against Gilman from the backside.
"You know, the coaches always talk about flying around the ball. If you are around the ball you can be making plays," Smith said. "That just happened to be one of those plays, and every play I am looking to get the ball, be a ball-hawk. I was just trying to get to the end zone."
Smith was kicking himself he couldn't get past the FSU-bound Locksley. Smith was sporting an FSU mouth guard during the game, and said the Gilman quarterback whispered a few times in his ear afterwards about joining him in Tallahassee. But the big man was impressive toting the rock down the right sideline, no doubt, after scooping it effortlessly and scooting past a first group of defenders.
"Oh man, as I was running off the field I was thinking about it. I should have had a step-back move, hurdle move, you know," Smith quipped. "I should have come up with something there."
On his move to the linebacker spot, Smith said it has gone well. He has had one game with 21 tackles alone this season, while he's up to 14 tackles-for-a-loss on the year.
"I love it. I like it better than at D-end, as I feel I can see and read more and get to the ball even quicker," Smith said. "D-line you are inside, it's hard to get there sometimes. But at inside linebacker you can go sideline to sideline and make plays."
Smith said he could see himself as a 'Jack' type linebacker at college, both rushing and dropping back in coverage as well.
On the college offer front, he's over 30 with USC and Wisconsin some of the more recent in the last few months. Oklahoma, PSU and Maryland are all in hot pursuit, among many others.
Smith took in the Oklahoma-Tennessee game this season, as well Penn State for the UMass game and may be going back up to State College, Pa., again soon. He said he has a good relationship with his UMD recruiter, Keith Dudzinski, who he says he talks with all the time on social media. Smith and some of his teammates hope to make it Oct. 4 for the Terps-Ohio State game at Byrd Stadium.
"The Terps, they have been pretty strong this year. After watching them they have pulled out some tough games. And it's big to start off well in the Big Ten conference now because if they can do it in the Big Ten....I have to put Maryland up there," he said.
Smith said he knows and stays in contact with a handful of Terps, like former SFA linebacker and Terps freshman Nnamdi Egbuaba, as well as former Dunbar defensive end, and Terps' redshirt freshman, Malik Jones.
Smith said he wants to take all of his official campus visits and decide after his senior year.
"Maryland, they got a good look now and I want to get down there and check them out some more," he said.
Though he projects as an outside linebacker in college, Smith lines up in the middle for St. Frances. He has above-average quickness, displaying a first step that gives him an advantage over tackles who can’t get set up quickly enough. Smith also has a potent initial jab as well, which sometimes has a stunning effect. He’s adept at striking his man, gaining a step advantage inside, and then slicing through the gap, right into the backfield. Smith also possesses sound, nimble feet and that allows him to pick through the trash without getting crossed up.
Moreover, he shows good lateral agility and moves well in space or down the line. Smith does a solid job fighting through blocks and disengaging on his way to the back, as well. When he’s in the open field, Smith effectively breaks down and rarely over-pursues. He takes tight closing angles, and closes fairly quickly, often finishing with a solid thump. Smith is proving a bigger and bigger hitter, and he wraps well and isn’t going to let his man out of his grasp. He does a good job of seeking out backs.
Smith’s field awareness is another one of his main attributes. He’s seemingly always around the ball, whether he makes the tackle or not, and that’s as much a product of his football IQ as it is his athleticism and talent.
There are a few areas Smith needs to improve on, however, as with any junior. While he certainly looks the part at 6-4, 230-pounds, we’d like to see him become even more powerful at the point of attack. Sometimes he can be taken out of the play. On top of that, Smith doesn’t always gain leverage, and he relies more on his upper body than his base to generate power. Even as a linebacker, he has to make sure he gets low and drives from his base, but we have seen improvement there of late.
Also, we’d like to see Smith become an even more effective block shredder. Once in awhile he’ll let an opposing player get into his body and will struggle to disengage. And while he does tackle well, he can be a little hesitant when angling in. Again, we want to see him really cull up that strength, get downhill and deliver a reverberating hit. We saw more of that in the Gilman game.
Technically speaking, Smith has to continue working on his hand placement and rush moves. He has to make sure his jabs are consistently under the pads, for example, while continuing to develop his rip-through and swim. Finally, though he moves well for a big guy, he needs to become even looser and more fluid to play in space. Sometimes he looks just a tad slow when attempting to run in the open field, especially when dropping back.
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