For those of you that have followed the recruiting process since day one of the Schiano era, you know well enough the consequences of not being first in line for a top-tier recruit.
In many instances recruits and their immediate families would misinterpret any simple oversight as a personal insult. Seemingly, it was as if Rutgers, their state university, owed them something, personally (ironically, there was rarely any reciprocity involved). Failure to live up to that standard, as unfair as it may have been, had its obvious consequences: out of the recruiting picture for said prospect.
Abdul Smith was different. He was a fan of two teams growing up: Florida State and Rutgers. In his heart, he always knew he wanted to represent his home state, accomplish something to make his peers proud. All he wanted was the opportunity.
There would be none of the often heard but they didn't offer me first talk from him. Because, you see, that's not the sort of young man that Manatee Smith, Abdul's father, raised.
"Well, Matt," stated Mr. Smith during our conversation, trying to defer any personal praise, "I would to like to thank God for giving me such a young, talented man as a son."
It was evident, after another lengthy conversation, why Abdul was the perfect Rutgers-character individual. He had taken right after his father. Quick to defer praise and slow to accept any of it, he's a team-first, me-never sort of young man. Humble, and true to his word. This last characteristic proved beneficial as schools started to approach Abdul after RU's slower than expected start. But true to his heart, and true to his word, Abdul remained on course.
"After I committed to Rutgers, two of the schools that I had been considering, Maryland and Pittsburgh, still came after me. Also, Colorado and a couple of other schools did as well. I just ignored them and talked with them as little as possible," stated Abdul.
"It means to me, Matt," continued Mr. Smith when asked about his son's allegiance to the school he had pledged to, "that characteristics like integrity, patience and making your word bond that I tried instilling in Abdul really took root in him. It showed me he accepts responsibility for the decision he has made."
And so, while swatting away those still courting him with one hand, Abdul maintained his focus with the help of the other. "I knew it was the place for me," he said, in reference to his future school, " ... after visiting all the schools that I visited, Rutgers blew me away and I knew I wanted to be apart of something great."
While some wavered at the first sign of discomfort, the Smiths' patience more than paid off as Rutgers reeled off one of the most historic turnarounds in college football history. It was a turnaround not taken lightly by Mr. Smith.
"I think the trend of the program is obvious. The lesson learned is no matter what, don't quit, you must keep on chopping. Being a close friend to and familiar with former Rutgers Head Coach Doug Graber, I see under Coach Schiano a program that is here to stay, that will ultimately become Big East Champions and contend for a National title in Abdul's time at Rutgers."
For Abdul, RU's resurgence served as additional impetus to get to know his future family just a little bit better. "I've talked with and have gotten to know Mike Larrow, Mo Sanu, Tom Savage, Logan Ryan, and Andre Civil. I've also met Andre at the All-Star game we were invited to. We had to hold our own, making sure we were representing Rutgers." Along with Andre Civil, Smith was invited to participate in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl, featuring 88 of the best high school seniors in the country.
"It was a great experience playing with a bunch of guys with similar talents. It was a little bit of a challenge adjusting to playing corner from playing safety for the past 2 years, but I ended up performing well in practice and wound up getting the start. It was a great experience," stated Abdul.
Currently at 6-feet and 189-pounds, Abdul has been spending much of his free time improving himself physically. "Right now I'm doing some power-lifting drills and I'll be doing that until the end of February. I ended up maxing out at 400 on the squat and 355-pounds on the bench-press. After power-lifting I'll mainly be focusing on the playbook and speed training to get ready for Rutgers."
Before that day comes, when Mr. Smith will send his son off to college for the next four or five years, a signing of a letter of intent must take place. The day itself is a special day, signifying an important accomplishment and the beginning of an entirely new journey.
"No it won't just be another day," stated Mr. Smith in reference to Wednesdays LOI Day. "Well, as you know, Abdul lives away from home on campus. But at his school this will be a historic moment where the whole campus will be excited and celebrating. Our family will be on hand as well. For us, this will be a great day celebrating Abdul, his family, his city of Trenton and his school. I have celebrated days like this for other division-I recruits, but when it's your own son, it is beyond great," continued Mr. Smith.
Meanwhile, for young Abdul, the focus changes from his times in high school to Rutgers.
"At Rutgers, I'm looking forward to everything, meeting new people, competing against great competitors, and becoming the best student athlete that I can possibly be."