Prep placekicker considering walking on at Vandy

Placekicking was a huge concern for Vanderbilt's football team in 2003, as the Commodores went much of the season without a sure-fire long-range kicker. Though it appears unlikely the Commodores will offer a kicker a scholarship this year, a high school placekicker who appears to have the right resume is considering joining the team next fall as an invited walk-on.

For Macon County High School's Kittrell Smith, the 2003 postseason was like something out of a fairy tale. For two weeks in a row, the 5-9, 145-pound placekicker connected on last-gasp, game-winning field goals that helped his team advance in the state playoffs.

Placekicking was a huge concern for Vanderbilt in 2003, as the Commodores went much of the season without a long-range, sure-footed kicker. Twice this past season, field goals with low trajectories were blocked by opposing teams, and other attempts from short range fell short or went wide. The lack of an accurate placekicker altered strategy for Vanderbilt's offense, which often opted to go for it on fourth down inside the opponent's 30-yard-line rather than risk a low-percentage field goal attempt.

Next fall Smith, who is considering walking on with the Commodores, could compete with placekickers Patrick Johnson and Tolga Ertugrul for the placekicking job if he settles on Vanderbilt as a college destination.

"I either want to go to Vanderbilt or Memphis, but I haven't really talked to either of their coaches that much," said Smith, who at last report had received no scholarship offers.

Smith's 33-yard field goal attempt with 1.7 seconds left on Nov. 14 lifted the Tigers to a 17-15 victory over Grundy County in the second round of the state playoffs. Lightning struck twice the next week, as Smith's 50-yarder with 0:11 remaining stunned Smith County 17-15, and propelled Macon County into the state semifinals.

"We had some tough games, and it just came down to me having to kick it," the modest Smith recalled recently in an aw-shucks manner. "It just worked out nice for me."

"[Smith] kept nudging me in the ribs on the sidelines, saying, Coach, let me try it, let me try it," said Macon County coach Pat Dyer of the 50-yarder. "It was a real pressure shot."

The 50-yard bomb of a game-winner was Smith's longest field goal of the year, but Smith has connected from 55 yards out in practice. Like most high school players, Smith used a tee for his kicks during the season, but once the season ended, he immediately began practicing without a tee in hopes of landing a college scholarship.

Smith's accuracy from long range proved to be a devastating weapon for the Tigers, as he converted 14-of-17 field goals and 29-of-32 extra points. He was recently named to the first-team All-Midstate Team by The Tennessean newspaper, an honor given annually to the top placekicker in the Midstate.

Smith does a little bit of punting too. His 36-yard average this season may be misleading, says his coach; Smith averaged 50 yards on three punts in one playoff game.

"I definitely think he's got a college-caliber leg," said Dyer. "He's played soccer pretty much all his life. If he doesn't get an offer, some college somewhere is really going to be missing out."

"I went on a recruiting weekend to Vanderbilt this past fall for an unofficial visit," said Smith. "I plan to visit Memphis sometime in January. I'm having a film made right now."

Smith said his father Al has been in contact with the Vanderbilt coaching staff, and the staff plans to eye his film closely. Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Ted Cain spent time with Dyer regarding Smith back in the summer.

Walk-on players who choose Vanderbilt have to earn admission "the hard way", but Smith should have little trouble. He has already qualified with a 25 on the ACT (though he's still hoping to improve on that), and will graduate from Macon County fourth in his class. He hopes to study business, possibly with an emphasis in sports management.

"Vanderbilt (traditionally) hasn't been a great football team, but they're trying to get a better program, and their academics are unbelievable," Smith said. "Memphis-- I don't know, I just want to stay pretty close to home. Memphis has got a pretty solid football program. I think I could break in there."

Kicking a football in pressurized situations requires nerves of steel, and Smith's ability to perform under pressure has also served him well as one of the top prep golfers in the state. He is probably not a scholarship prospect there either, but could likely help a college team as a walk-on in that sport as well.

"I just play golf for fun," he says modestly. "I'm decent."


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