One of the truly exciting national recruits in this 2007 class is Harrison Smith. This unassuming 6'2" 200-pound kid from a private school in the Volunteer State is one of the fastest athletes in the Southeast and a very rare specimen at his size. If his highlight film did not blow you away with his separation speed and playmaking ability on both sides of the ball at Knoxville (Tenn.) Catholic High School during his junior season, then his performance in late April at the Athens (Ga.) Nike Camp should have sealed the deal.
"I did pretty good. They thought I had good footwork in the defensive back drills," Smith says.
While he dazzled as one of the tallest and most talented safeties/cornerbacks on the field, Smith smoked in his testing on the way to MVP honors. His 4.38 in the 40 was the second fastest of the day. He ran a 3.94 short shuttle, the fastest time of the entire combine.
"I knew I had a fast shuttle, but that was faster than I expected," Smith admits.
"Speed is one of my most important strengths," he adds. "That and being aggressive. That's probably the key to why I'm successful - play every down like it's my last."
College coaches in attendance in Athens took notice. Smith's pre-spring scholarship offers were from Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Ole Miss and Stanford. Boston College said they would offer once he visited. Smith checked out Chestnut Hill and added the Eagles' offer in April. Clemson and Vanderbilt followed suit. After his combine performance, the Knoxville athlete raised his stock further still and quickly collected more offers.
His newest offers have come from Colorado and Alabama, despite his spending much the NCAA evaluation period standing on the sidelines at his school's spring practices. Smith injured his ankle during the very first drill on the first day of Catholic's spring ball. A fierce competitor, it was disappointing to have to sit out the remainder of the spring. That included Smith missing the Louisville Scout.com All-American Combine he was set to attend. And though he is a proven playmaker, the two-way standout was planning to use the spring to make an adjustment in his role for the Fighting Irish.
Harrison Smith played running back in Catholic's Wing-T offense, gobbling up 1,312 yards and 17 touchdowns on 155 carries (8.5 ypc) and another 446 yards and six scores on 32 receptions (13.9 ypr), flashing his gamebreaking speed in the open field for big gains. More interesting was his role on defense - as a 6'2" cornerback.
"Our coach likes to play a bigger corner for some reason," Smith shrugs. "We played a 'cover two' defense versus a lot of running teams. Halfway through the year, teams started to run to the other side of the field."
That did not stop this athlete from amassing 70 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five interceptions and two defensive touchdowns. To take full advantage of Smith's abilities, the Catholic coaches are moving him to safety for the 2006 season. While his absence from spring practices disadvantages him in making that transition, Smith already displayed many of the skills of a safety in his defensive back play last fall.
"I've played safety before so there is not a lot to learn," he says. "I'll just have to get back in there. I still watch as much as I can in practices."
While his position shuffle in high school is not a great concern, it does weigh on Smith's mind where he is being recruited by the colleges currently courting him. He has the speed, lateral quickness, size, aggressiveness and hard-hitting physical presence to play any number of spots on either side of the ball. Wide receiver, running back, safety and linebacker are all possibilities. In-state power Tennessee, for example, has told him that they consider him a recruit at all those positions for the Vols.
"As for which side of the ball, I want to play defense," Smith states. "I have always played in the secondary and don't want to switch. I'd rather play safety than linebacker."
With that straightened out, there still remains the ever-increasing pool of college choices for Smith to sort out. Currently the owner of an even dozen offers, Smith has a national recruitment that is becoming broader by the day.
"I don't really have any favorites," he maintains. "Because I haven't been to all the places yet."
That is changing, however. Smith this spring has visited Virginia Tech, Boston College, Alabama and Auburn. Tennessee of course is a place he has seen numerous times next door. His biggest trip to date gets underway today, when Smith flies out West. He will arrive in the Bay Area today and also spend Friday and Saturday touring the Cardinal campus and surrounding areas, with travel back to Knoxville on Sunday.
"I really just want to see how things are and get a feel for the coaches and school," he comments.
"I'm excited about Stanford," Smith continues. "They're one of the top schools in the country. It's out in California. I like it. The coaches have been sending me a lot of mail. I like the coaches... I don't have a leader, but they're up there."
"Stanford said I have to get accepted to go to school," he adds of the Cardinal's unique admissions process among Division I-A schools. "I understand how it works. It doesn't bother me."
With his 3.77 GPA, 28 ACT and 1850 on the new SAT, Smith presents a confident applicant. But the competition for his services is fierce, with suitors from just about every major conference knocking on his door. Six of his 12 offers have come from the SEC, and three more hail from the ACC - two leagues that live in his backyard.
"I haven't really looked at it as conferences," he offers. "I'm looking at schools individually. My parents aren't pushing me to stay close or to go away. They want what is best for me. I'd like to stay near home if I can, but if I visit and really like a place, then that may be the best place for me. My parents would like to watch me play, but they are not going to tell me where to go."
Without question, the single school which every player in this recruitment has to consider is Tennessee. The SEC power is located in Smith's hometown, and they have been heavy in their pursuit of the local boy for some time.
"They had a bad season last year, but they have Coach [David] Cutcliffe back and the facilities are impressive," Smith says. "I grew up watching Tennessee, so something's there. But I'm trying to distance myself from being a fan. I'm trying to make the decision that is best for me."
Phil Fulmer has had ample opportunities to make his pitch to the Knoxville product. Smith attended games this past fall, recent spring practices and the Vols' Junior Day.
"I've been over there and visited them several times. I'm definitely comfortable at Tennessee," he allows.
Truthfully, can the Cardinal contend from 2,100 miles away with so much attention and pressure from his hometown school?
"Stanford is not a long shot," Smith states. "They are a long ways away. I'll have to see when I visit."
With these visits checking off his list, plus at least another to come to South Bend this summer, Harrison Smith is putting himself in a position where he could evaluate his options and come to a decision sooner rather than later.
"It's getting to where I need to narrow it down," he admits. "I need to take as many visits as I can."
"It all depends," Smith says of this decision timeframe. "I have not set a date. Originally I wanted to focus on my senior year and be finished. But if I need more time, I'll do that. It's a big decision. You don't really realize it before this all happens."
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