Up Close: Jonathan Smith, Part I

DURHAM, N.C. –- He was just a 12-year-old at Sheppard Middle School when North Carolina 2007 commitment Jonathan Smith realized he had the ability to not just hit people on the football field, but "run through them."

From that point on, Smith got serious about following his dream of playing football for a living. Since then he has developed a reputation as a fierce hitter. But Smith will tell you he's working hardest these days on becoming better in pass coverage.

When UNC linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen got a good look at his film, he was impressed with Smith's explosiveness to the ball carrier and the violent impact he brought to the point of contact.

"I think they like the fact that I'm physical," said Smith, now a rising senior at Hillside. "They like that I'm athletic and fast. And some of the film they had showed off my coverage skills."

At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, with speed in the "4.5 range" and a 40-inch vertical leap, Smith lined up at safety last season for the Hornets. However, coach Ray Harrison allowed him almost free reign in the defensive scheme to bring the wood all over the field, including rushing the quarterback.

"He's a headhunter, but Jonathan's also a guy who can cover," Harrison said. "He can go sideline to sideline with the best of them."

This year Harrison expects Hillside to return to the playoffs with no less than six Division I prospects leading the Hornets' senior class. Last year they missed out on the postseason after coming up on the short end of a tie-breaker drawing with Fayetteville's Douglas Byrd.

Smith will be moved to outside linebacker, both for the benefit of his high school team and to help him prepare for college, Harrison said.

"He's just so athletic," Harrison said of Smith. "He has great hips. He's really smart and loves the game of football. He's really strong and he loves the weight room.

"He came from JV last year and he was just a beast. He creates turnovers and gives our other guys opportunities to score. He puts pressure on the quarterback. The things we needed him to do, he did for us."

Almost immediately after Smith committed to UNC less than two weeks ago, Harrison said schools like Nebraska, N.C. State, Wake Forest and Clemson have been fervently recruiting him. But Harrison said Smith's decision to attend Carolina is final. And although Smith plans to take official visits to both Clemson and Wake, he's already found a home in Chapel Hill.

"He's very firm in his commitment," Harrison said. "He loves Coach Thigpen and Coach [Kenny] Browning. Those are great guys. He goes over there whenever he wants to just see them and talk to them. He really enjoys the atmosphere over at Carolina.

"Coach Thig' is a great role model for Jonathan. He wants to follow in his footsteps."

Stay tuned for Part II coming tomorrow…

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