"T.J. is a new guy [to football]," North Stanly head coach Ralph Jackson said. "He's coming from basketball. But he's a kid that brings a lot to the table. He's long, he's strong, he's thick, and he's becoming a football player now. This is a kid that 20 minutes after practice is over, he's still working on something. He wants to be the best defensive end he can be.
"He's a good kid. He's a high-GPA kid – very, very smart kid."
This coming season will be Smith's first playing organized football. His sole focus was basketball until his father, who is an administrator at North Stanly, bumped into North Carolina assistant coach Chris Kapilovic during an evaluation visit.
"Coach Kap had just seen T.J., so I introduced him to Mr. Smith," Jackson explained. "Coach Kap shook his hand and said ‘There's not many 6-4 Division I basketball (centers), but we look for them everyday on the football field.'
"From that point on, T.J. has locked in to playing football."
At about that time, Smith was beginning to see that his basketball prospects were bleak.
"I was playing basketball and everything wasn't going how I thought it would go," Smith said. "I didn't hit the growth spurts that I thought I would hit. Coach Jackson told me I had an opportunity to come out here and be successful on the football field. I started to coming to workouts and I just fell in love with it."
Smith's transition has been relatively seamless.
"A lot of things I've used in basketball, I use in football, too," Smith said. "After all the strength and conditioning, it's easy to me."
The lack of football experience hasn't prevented Clemson, Duke, UNC, and NC State from showing interest in Smith. All four schools invited him to camp and he accepted all four invitations.
"[UNC's] was a really fun experience," Smith said. "It was a very hyped environment. Music is going, everybody is pumped about what's going on – I just enjoyed it."
At UNC's camp, Smith worked out under the guidance of Keith Gilmore, the Tar Heels defensive line coach.
"He's very intense," Smith said. "He's real big on teaching technique and that will help me this season."
All four schools were pleased with Smith's performance during their respective camps, according to Jackson. However, each staff wants to see football footage of Smith before deciding whether to offer.
"They want to actually see what he can do with the pads on," Jackson said. "That's what we're trying to prep him for right now. Those first three games will be very important for his career."
While on the camp circuit, a couple of schools grabbed Smith's attention.
"Carolina most definitely [stood out]," Smith said. "I love what the campus looks like [and] the coaches seem pretty cool.
"Running behind Carolina is NC State, because I liked their defensive line coach. He's really cool."
Smith hasn't given up basketball. As a sophomore, he led North Stanly in points (12-per-game average) and averaged seven rebounds a game… Smith also throws the discus and shot put for North Stanly's track-and-field team… In addition to underclassman teammate Antonio Williams, Smith is close with two other Stanly County natives – R.J. Prince, who is a freshman at UNC, and B.J. Hill, a 2014 recruit who is verbally committed to NC State.