Meanwhile, Willis earned All-SEC and All-American honors, and enters his senior season in Oxford as a finalist for the Butkus Award as well as future first round NFL Draft choice. This recruiting reminder is brought to you as a public service by SANE the Society Against Nonlinear Expectations. It's also intended as a warning in regard to an ongoing recruiting battle between the Vols and Rebs for another Tennessee linebacker prospect who's not well known — now.
There's no way to know if Isaiah Smith of Columbia will be the next Patrick Willis, but he appears to have the makings to be a solid SEC linebacker. At 6-foot-1, 222 pounds and with a 4.44 clocking in the 40, he certainly has the size and speed to play in the Conference.
He also had respectable, if not spectacular, numbers as a junior, recording 60 tackles, 10 for losses with five sacks. On offense he had 20 receptions for 300 yards and three touchdowns, earning both All-Region and All-State honors.
"My speed and quickness and my size, I guess," Smith said when asked to describe his strengths. "I have a pretty good ability to get off the block. I can chase plays down really good, like if a play is going outside, I can pretty much run it down from behind as long is the running back isn't too fast, like a 4.2 or anything like that."
Smith has the grades to justify interest from Ivy League schools as well as Vanderbilt and Stanford, plus he passed his ACT as a sophomore, although he plans to take it again. He runs the 100 meters in track and boast a 34-inch vertical leap.
"First, I'm looking for academics, great academics," he told Don Yates of Vandymania when asked what he's looking for in a college. "Then, like a good football program. Like good recruiting, training and strength and conditioning."
Smith has been busy this summer attending camps at Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Memphis. He has also made unofficial visits to Auburn, Louisville and nearby Vanderbilt. Only Ole Miss and UT have extended offers to this point, and those rate as his favorites.
Tennessee offered him in May and Ole Miss offered him in June during an unofficial visit to Oxford.
"Yes sir, they offered me a full scholarship," he told Scout.com's Yancy Porter. "It kind of came as a surprise. They said if I came and worked out a day in front of them, I would probably get one. So yea, it kind of shocked me they gave me one without working out in front of them."
Obviously, Smith passed the eyeball test at Ole Miss, and the Rebels have been keeping a close watch on him ever since.
"They said to take my time," he said, "but they really want me to play for them because they are going to be hurting at linebacker pretty hard after Patrick Willis graduates."
Oh yes, Patrick Willis. Another reminder of the one that got away.