If there is one school that has made tight ends playmakers, it's Stanford.
In recent years, Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener and Austin Hooper have been reliable pass-catchers and racked up huge numbers under David Shaw.
Flower Mound, TX's Kaden Smith could be next.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end is the highest rated player in the 2016 recruiting class as the 38th-ranked prospect in the nation.
"He was very aggressive with his process. There was no doubt all along he wanted to go to Stanford. There was really never a number-two, three or four. Stanford was really where he wanted to go from the beginning," Smith's high school coach, Gerry Stanford, said.
"He always had a good attitude with recruiters because they were very aggressive. He’s just a unique kid that offers up a unique skill-set that can do everything on the field from a tight end or receiver standpoint. He was a hot commodity for a lot of people, but I thought he handled it in a very professional, very mature way."
That's just the way Smith carries himself on and off the field. In his highlights, it looks like he is a man among boys. He isn't only bigger, but brings an athleticism and versatility to his playmaking ability.
I will let him tell you.
"(I’m) very physical, I block till the whistle and I’m a great route runner. I’m not the fastest guy yet so I have to use a lot of good technique. I play very smart, I play with my head," Smith said.
The tight end position has expanded so much over the past decade or so. Players will line up “traditionally” along the offensive line or they can be gigantic slot receivers. To Coach Stanford, it doesn't matter where you put Smith. He will find a way to beat defenses.
"Kaden is the type of tight end that can put his hand in the grass, H-back, in the flex, and be out wide," Coach Stanford said. "He has a strong enough athletic skill-set and the God-given ability to not come off the field and can be a personnel nightmare for defenses."
Smith is a Texan to the bone. He is a huge country music fan, but don’t get him started on Luke Bryan and “that girly stuff”. His favorite food is his dad’s homemade ribs, and he Coach Stanford sees similarities between his tight end and the NFL legend.
"Kaden’s relentlessness to be a competitor, to be a winner, I think is very similar to Jason Witten. His toughness to not want to come off the field regardless of the situation I think is something that is unique to Kaden."
Smith said Coach Stanford was integral in the recruiting process, whether it be assuming the role of supporter, confidant or at times bouncer for would-be recruiters visiting the Marcus campus. He supported the Smith's decision to commit to the Cardinal, even though he may have been wishing deep down his star tight end committed to his beloved LSU Tigers, Smith joked. Coach Stanford has experience working with the Stanford coaching staff. He coached former Cardinal and current Arizona Cardinal Josh Mauro in high school, and called the Stanford coaching staff "five-star class-A guys".
And he isn't the only coach excited about Smith's decision.
On Signing Day, David Shaw said he sees the route-running ability of Zach Ertz and the speed of Coby Fleener in Smith. The four-star Texas product agrees with his future coach.
"I am very confident with how I play, and I see that in myself. I met Fleener this summer, and he is a great guy. On the field and off the field, those are two fantastic guys."
Stanford’s pedigree of tight ends makes the Cardinal a destination for the top players at the position. Seeing the success the likes of Ertz, Fleener and Hooper have had over the years drives Smith as he prepares for life on The Farm.
“It’s exciting because they have great trail to the NFL with tight ends. That let’s you know you have a good chance of going if you do what the coaches tell you and work hard,” Smith said. “It’s my goal to get to the NFL, and I want a great education also. Stanford is even that much more of an easy choice because you get the education and the best chance to go to the NFL as a tight end.”
Smith did suffer a torn ACL and MCL in December playing basketball. He is in the process of rehabbing the injury and hopes to be ready by the time the season rolls around. Moving forward, that’s his top, and only, priority.
“The only thing I’m focused on is my knee so just get that in shape and get going,” Smith said.
And once he gets going, Coach Stanford believes football will be in his future.
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“I think his future will be as long as he wants it to be. I think it will be based on him staying healthy and if he stays healthy, he will play this game for a long time.”