Vols break into Smith's top 4

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At 6 feet 3, 235 pounds and as a product of one of the premier prep football programs in the state of Georgia, it's easy to see why Southeastern Conference coaches are tripping over one another to get a signed National Letter of Intent from Austin Smith.

In three years at Buford (Ga.) High School, the outside linebacker already has two GHSA state championship rings and a runner-up finish. Between competing on a high level and his stature, he's a prospect that could see himself in the front seven of an SEC defense early in his college career.

A school fighting for the Scout three-star's services is Tennessee, which Smith visited this spring.

"My mom, she thinks academics are really, really important and so do I," Smith told InsideTennessee. "When I went down there March 5, the first thing she asked about was the academics. My mom said it really did impress her; it impressed her a lot. She said academically, Tennessee is a very good school for me. She said it's not far away — it's 4 hours away from home. She said they have six or seven specialists in each course. So, I was like, ‘hmm.'"

Butch Jones is the head man on Rocky Top and the second-year coach has already left a lasting impression on Smith.

"Just the way (Jones) talks to you," Smith said. "He really cares about you. He cares about his players. He sees them as his own kids. He really wants them to succeed in life — not just in football but in life. And, that's what I liked about it. That, and they're switching from adidas to NIKE.

"I just love coach Jones. I like the way he presents himself, not just as a coach but as a man. As a young man, you need that in your life, especially on those days when you don't have your family and all you have is football, a great role model like him will keep you in line."

The ‘backer says he's up to 14-15 offers with South Carolina and Virginia being the most recent. So, getting him and his mother to unofficially visit for a junior day was paramount.

"They took me and we went over some plays and sat down with coach Jones and (Tennessee linebackers) coach (Tommy) Thigpen. It was pretty much the whole coaching staff," Smith said. "They said, ‘We really want you up here. You're a very good player.'"

Recruiting the Buford area for Tennessee is running backs coach Robert Gillespie, who has already developed a relationship with Smith.

"(Gillespie) says what you see is what you get and that's all you can ask for," Smith said. "When a coach is real with you, that's all you can ask for. He said, ‘I'm not gonna play any games. I'm not going to front. What you see is what you get.' Once he said that, I was like, ‘Man, I like him.' He tells the truth. He said if you come here, this is going to pop up and then in another two years, this is going to pop up.

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"Plus, he's real energetic. He doesn't say what he does in a job, he says he loves what he does. I like him."

The recruiting efforts are paying off Smith, who played linebacker at Buford in 2013 alongside Class of 2014 four-star middle linebacker and Clemson signee Korie Rogers as well as three-star junior Joshua Thomas. The Volunteers find themselves as one of the junior's favorite schools: "Right now it's Florida, Tennessee, LSU and Kentucky."

"Just trying to concentrate on those four," he said. "I really haven't eliminated those other schools. But, those are my main schools that I think I have a great chance to be able to start and make a great impact my freshman year."

Smith says the coaches at Tennessee see him as playing the SAM or WILL spot in the second level of their defense. He looks up to and picks up nuances of some of the best tacklers in modern-day football.

After pausing to contemplate, Smith applauded the question and said he looks up to and patterns his game around NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor. He also mentioned Ray Lewis and former Florida State ‘back Telvin Smith.

Look for Tennessee to get another chance to continue painting Smith's mind orange by having him back on The Hill. He's just unsure of when that will happen: "Not that I know of, but I would love to go back up there."

He has also seen Florida and LSU with a summer trip to Kentucky planned.

Smith says he plans to major in Business Management and hopefully one day own a business. He doesn't know his grade point average and is scheduled to take the ACT this summer. Enrolling in January 2015 is up in the air.

"Still trying to decide that with my family because family is very important to me. Everyday isn't promised. That's a great question. I really don't know. I have to decide that with my family. Without them, I wouldn't be here."

Discuss the Buford standout's recruitment with InsideTennessee analysts and subscribers by clicking here.

Danny Parker is currently the Managing Editor, Recruiting Analyst and Staff Photographer for InsideTennessee.com. He was previously the sports editor at Shelbyville Times-Gazette. He joined the Scout team July 2011.
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