The Bootleg: In terms of the offensive line in general, as they veteran of the line, are you seen as the leader of the unit? A leader of the team? Who are Stanford's leaders, in general?
Allen Smith: Coach Harbaugh is very clear that you don't have to be a senior to lead. Anyone who has a voice, who has the type of mentality that is going to breed a winning program has the ability to be a leader. But naturally, being the oldest class guy on the team, I fell into a mentorship and leadership role. The young guys look up to me, and stuff like that. But it's one of those things where I've always wanted my team to be the best it can be, and I've always played this game with a lot of emotion and a lot of heart and that's the way I've come out to try and get guys better—with a lot of emotion, trying to get some high intensity, and generally try and have guys come out and enjoy themselves. I don't know if the guys would consider me a leader, I'm sure that some do. I feel blessed and honored to have that title, but it's not something I felt I had to do just because I was a senior. It's the respect of your teammates that's given to you, and I've always strived for that respect, and I hope I'm getting it done.
In terms of people I would call a leader: Toby Gerhart, Andrew Luck, Bo McNally, Chris Marinelli. Jimmy Dray leads by example. Ryan Whalen is one of the hardest workers on the team. You have so many guys that you see week in and week out making plays and stepping up for our team, and those are the guys who I would consider leaders—the guys working hard to get us wins.
Q: Can you talk about the emotions going into your final home game against Notre Dame, and your first bowl game in six seasons?
A: My emotions going into my last game at Stanford Stadium were definitely bittersweet, as they always are. I was so happy that we were playing at home for the final game of the season, and against Notre Dame, which is the team I've disliked the most since I've been here. I remember walking off the practice field after the last Thursday practice and having to lie down on the field and really take in what this University has meant to me. But in general, I was so excited to play that last game, and to leave with a win at Stanford Stadium, and to give people the joy and the pride of being able to hoist up No. 7 after that outstanding game, and to know that I was able to contribute to that made me feel absolutely elated.
In terms of my feelings going into the bowl game, I'm just incredibly excited. This is a milestone for this program, and these bowl visits are going to be a signature of Coach Harbaugh. He's put together an excellent program here, and there will be many of these to come. In general, I feel like I get to represent my class, and all the guys I played with when we went through that stretch where we never got to go to a bowl game. Now, I hope that for those guys, for the guys that worked so hard to get us to this point, I can honor them even though they're not with us and just do my best to help us win the bowl game. Of course we want to win every game, but it's especially important because it's been so long, and we want to declare that not only are we in a BCS conference, but eventually, we're going to be in a BCS game.
Q: You've been talking a lot about Coach Harbaugh. Can you discuss some of the changes you've seen since he's come in?
A: Absolutely. He's changed this program from top to bottom. Early on, when I first got here, the only continuity I had was with my teammates. I only had one season under Coach Teevens before we got Coach Harris, and I only spent two seasons under him before we got to Coach Harbaugh. Because of that, the lessons that we learned about preparation, about practicing and about work ethic were all derived from the leadership of the older guys on the team. We had struggled here for so long, and while I wouldn't call it a losing culture, it definitely wasn't a winning culture. I think that Coach Harbaugh coming and demanding sacrifices from players, as well as giving rewards to players, all for the sake of winning, and getting everyone under the banner that it's all for the good of the team and the good of the university and the good of the program. That mentality has translated over to our work ethic, and his intensity has translated over to our work ethic, to the point where now, I think we've worked harder this year than we ever have before. It's one of those things where the bar is consistently being raised every single year he's been here, so I expect to see nothing but improvement from a great baseline that he's already established.
Q: Beyond Coach Harbaugh, you've also had a number of offensive line coaches here. What have you learned from each of them?
A: I've had six offensive line coaches, and they've all had pearls of wisdom that I've accumulated over the years. Coach Morton was my first offensive line coach here. He's the one who taught me the importance of violence in the game. It's a contact sport, there's no if ands or buts about it. His mentality toward offensive line pass protection was extremely aggressive, and that's something that has carried me through my career. When we got our next offensive line coach, Coach McDonell, I had to learn a lot of discipline. He was different from Coach Morton and didn't teach things the same way, and so it was the discipline to be coachable and be able to adapt to different coaching strategies with the understanding that it all works as long as you do it well. That was an important lesson. Coach Dalman, with all of the improvement in my technique and my steps, he's probably the one who made me the most technically sound. He's the one who taught the importance of practice, and of doing things right over and over again.
This year, with Coach Roman and Coach Drevno, one thing I felt we never had as an offensive line was a true identity, and I feel like that's something they really tried to instill in us and make us understand how important it was for us as a room and as individual players to have a certain mentality when you come to practice every single day, to get better regardless of what circumstances are presented to you—if you're banged up, if you're nicked, it doesn't matter, you still have to come and work hard every day. That, combined with their emphasis on physicality and their emphasis on technique that went back to all of the coaching points I've learned in the past, helped me identify with these coaches and the offensive line room this year. Hopefully I was able to bring some of my past experiences to help the room to a point where we can be a dominant offensive line year in and year out.
Q: When recruits come to Stanford to look around campus and the program, what do you say to them to sell them on the school?
A: I'm sure, from the coaching staff and the administration, they get the same thing about it being the best of academics and the best of athletics combined into one. So when it comes to recruits, I try not to harp on that. I try to just speak about my experience since I've been here. I'll say, "Listen, Coach Harbaugh is the best in the business right now, as far as I'm concerned. When you walk into this program, you're going to be walking into a juggernaut that's going to be in bowl games and BCS competition year in and year out. If that's something you're looking for, you're in the right place." Now at the same time, I had the opportunity to go to a lot of different places, but I'm so thankful I came to Stanford, because with the injuries and with the scenarios I've been presented, it's always been a situation where I've never been forced to play football. It's never been one of those things where I had to play football in order to make it. I always had an option of what I wanted to do. I want to play football because I love it and it's my passion, but I also know that I'm at the best university in the world, so if for whatever reason football didn't work out, or I didn't enjoy it, or I fell out of love with the game, I would be in excellent position to live my life the way I want to live it by making a good decision I made early on. That's something I do appreciate, that I was able to have the foresight as a young 17, 18-year-old kid to make the decision to come to Stanford instead of another institution. So I tell the recruits, "Take in everything you can and get all the information available to you so that you can make the best decision, but understand, you have to look at where you want to be in forty years, not where you want to be in four."
Q: Has your Stanford experience been as you hoped it would be?
A: Honestly, it has. I committed to this school on the basis of my teammates and the basis of the campus and the work that is being done here, and every year I see something that is being done on the Stanford University campus that has absolutely taken my breath away. I've talked with students who have written economic papers for the President; I've talked with people who graduated high school three years early and are getting ready to enter medical school at age 21. I've met a wealth of academic talent here, as well as athletic talent. I've had breakfast with gold medalists and slapped high-fives with national champions. In no other place in the world would I have that experience, so it's been everything I've expected and more.
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