Eventually, during his sophomore year of high school, that offer came, but from an unlikely source.
"UCLA was actually the first school to offer me," Smith said. "It was so nerve-wracking. I would never have suspected that they would offer me my 10th grade year. When they offered me and told me the kind of player they thought I was and said that pretty soon I was going to get a ton of national attention, and then the way it played out, I was just really blessed and honored that they were on me so early. They have a great coaching staff."
The national attention did come, as the UCLA staff predicted, with offers pouring in over the last year from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia, and more. Still, he said, UCLA being that far ahead of the pack was significant for him.
"(The offer from UCLA) definitely made me more confident going into my junior year," Smith said. "And it also made me hungry for more. I got an offer two days after the UCLA offer from Ole Miss, and then didn't get another offer until my junior year. I went into last season with a chip on my shoulder, looking to show people what I could bring to the table."
In his 6'2, 207-pound frame, Smith brings a fair amount to the table. The No. 3 middle linebacker in the country says that schools have a wide variety of plans for him, with some staffs seeing him as an inside 'backer, some seeing him as a weakside outside linebacker, and others seeing him in a hybrid rover role. Still others, like UCLA, just want him on the field.
Smith says he talks with Ulbrich, Head Coach Jim Mora, or assistant linebackers coach Scott White at least three or four times per week, and that the Bruins, along with Georgia, South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Alabama are probably one of the schools recruiting him the most right now.
The Montezuma (Ga.) Macon County product is doing his best to not let the abundance of attention get to his head, and is trying to assess the process and the information he receives as analytically as possible.
"The attention can get overwhelming at points, but I try to stay level-headed," Smith said. "If I go on a visit or talk to a coach, I try to jot down some notes so that, when I get home, I can review it and then check to see if the coaches are true to their word and things of that nature."
If Smith sounds like he's taking a particularly mature approach to the recruiting process, he's taken recruiting maturity to another level with his detailed itinerary for most of the next month.
"I'm going to Tennessee this weekend," Smith said. "The 15th of March, I'm going to Florida, and then the 22nd, I'm going to Auburn. On the 29th, I'm not sure yet if I'll go to South Carolina, because I might have a camp I want to play in. April 5th, I'm going to Georgia, and then April 12th, I'll be going to Miami. I haven't put any more visits on the list yet, and I haven't yet decided which school's spring games I'll be going to."
As for the Bruins, Smith has yet to visit Westwood, but he has a plan for getting out to the West Coast prior to the start of official visit season.
"I'm going to be in the NFTC out here, and I hope to get an invite to the Opening," Smith said. "If I get the invite, then I'm going to visit UCLA while I'm out west."
As he takes his notes and assesses the campuses and coaching staffs of the various schools he's considering, there are a few key factors that Smith will be paying attention to, and, from the sounds of it, he has his family's blessing to choose based on those factors.
"They really just want what's best for me," Smith said. "I want to make sure I have a good coaching staff that will help me develop into the player I want to be. I want to have a very good bond with the coaching staff, and I want the whole experience to feel like a family atmosphere. Distance is not a real factor."
Smith said he hopes to have a top five sometime over the summer, and certainly before the start of his senior season. During and after the season, he wants to take all five of his official visits before making a decision.
"I know that the decision will affect me many years down the road, so I'll take a little something from every official visit and try to make the best decision for me," Smith said. "I'm pretty open right now, and I'm willing to give everyone a chance."
Smith said he actually was a big fan of USC when Reggie Bush attended, but said the Trojans haven't been recruiting him too much since the coaching staff apparently didn't think it had a chance of pulling him from the south.
As for academics, Smith said that he has a 3.1 GPA and scored a 17 on the ACT during his sophomore year. He plans to retake the ACT at some point over the next few months in an effort to raise the score.