Junior College Linebacker Gaining Attention

The Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Norsemen, the defending Southwest Junior College Football Conference regular season champions, were scrimmaging Thursday night on their new turf, under the lights and in front of their fans. It was hard not to notice number 43 when the defense was on the field. Akii "A.J." Smith makes a lot of plays and is a leader on the Norsemen's aggressive defense.

Smith was noticed last season as the Jim Thorpe Association honored him as the Small College Defensive Player of the Year in Oklahoma.

"It meant a lot, you know," explained Smith, who had 54 total tackles, two sacks, and a fumble recovery in 2012. "I really appreciate all the support I had from family and friends, and my teammates and coaches that have helped me with my confidence and my self-esteem to show me how well I'm doing.

"But it also shows me not to get overconfident or get a big head because I still have a lot of football to learn and so much farther to go."

In the Norse scrimmage, the first team defense, in primarily a script of the ones on each side of the ball going against the twos on the other, did not give up a touchdown and forced three turnovers. It was obvious that the 6-2, 220-pound Smith is not just a physical presence but also a huge mental one as well. His leadership skills and his determination to help his teammates has taken a jump.

"I do believe that and from last year we only lost a few people on our defense, but those people were pretty important," said Smith. "They were leaders, a couple of linebackers and defensive linemen. They were old and they had been here for awhile and they led this team. That is what helped us win so many games last year. I know I have to step up and help keep that gold ball (SWJCFC - championship trophy) here."

"A.J. is a joy to coach and a great example of what it means to be a complete student-athlete," said NEO A&M defensive coordinator Zach Allen. "He has provided great leadership for our team, on and off the field, and has a bright future ahead of him. This is a great honor for him and this football program."

Middle Tennessee State became the latest school to offer Smith. Kansas State heads a group of other schools that have been keeping tabs on Smith. NEO coaches say Oklahoma State inquired about Smith this week.

"I'm hoping I'll be able to further my career to the Division I level, and hopefully further beyond that, if possible," said Smith. "I'm hoping after December I'll be able to go to a good Division I school and move on.

"I've got a couple of offers and a few other looks I've had some good letters from Kansas State and others. I heard somebody was checking this week. I am a big (OSU) Cowboys fan."

Like a lot of junior college players, Smith will have to earn his next stop with his play from this season. But he is not worried about it, just ready to make it happen.

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