Prep football: West Rowan's Smith commits to Arkansas
By Ronnie Gallagher
MOUNT ULLA ó The car pulled over in Little Rock, Ark., and Chris Smith's father asked how much farther it was to Fayetteville.
When he was told three hours, members of the Smith family rolled their eyes and forged on.
The trip finally ended after 16 hours, but by the time the family headed home to Rowan County on Sunday, Smith knew his college destination.
West Rowan's chiseled 6-foot-2, 230-pound defensive end has committed to the Arkansas Razorbacks of the Southeastern Conference.
"I fell in love with the place," Smith said. "The fans are great. The stadium is huge, and they're still doing work to make it bigger."
West Rowan coach Scott Young said Arkansas quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee recently visited North Carolina looking at four players. Two are from the North Piedmont Conference ó Smith and West Iredell receiver P.J. Clyburn. Those two made the trip to Arkansas together.
"I pretty much had my mind made up," Smith said. "I just wanted to see the campus and see if it was the right fit."
He found out it was in every way.
"My mom and dad fell in love with the academics," Smith said, "so there is a good balance."
Without any major professional sports teams in the state, Smith got a good idea of what rules while visiting Fayetteville.
"Down there, it's all Arkansas Razorbacks," he said. "We went into a restaurant and it was 'Arkansas, Arkansas, Arkansas.' It's crazy. It's a Razorback state."
He found out how crazy once he made his decision to commit.
"I told the coaches, 'I want to be a Razorback,' " Smith said. "Reporters were coming to our hotel."
It was a quick introduction to the SEC, thought to be the most powerful football conference in the country.
"It's the best; you can't get any better than the SEC," Smith said. "I'll get to play against Florida, Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M. ... It's going to be a great atmosphere."
Arkansas will give Smith a chance to do what he loves ó rush the quarterback.
"The recruiting coordinator saw my film and fell in love with it," Smith said. "They're telling me I'm their hybrid guy. In a 4-3 defense, I'll be the defensive end. In the 3-4 situation, I'll drop back to outside linebacker.
"My game is based on speed. Rushing the quarterback is what I want to do."
He did it well as a junior, living up to his nickname of "Hercules."
In 2008, Smith was a key figure in the Falcons' march to the 3A state championship. He finished with 84 tackles, 20 quarterback sacks and 18 stops behind the line of scrimmage for a 15-1 team.
Smith said he will work harder now that he has chosen his school.
"I wanted to commit before my senior year," he said. "I'm going to work on technique. That's something you can never be too good at. It's one thing to be a player, and it's another to be a student of the game."
Smith said Arkansas coaches want him to put on 15 to 20 pounds.
"They're going to work on me," he said with a smile. "Antoine Sharp (the strength coach) is big on speed. He's very serious about what he does, and I like that."
Smith has no trouble going far away from home.
"You've got to look at yourself in the mirror," he said. "I wanted to get away so I could mature. I'm going to work hard and get better at the next level and maybe that will take me to the NFL where I can play on Sundays."
He only has one request for his father concerning future trips to Fayetteville.
"I told my dad, 'We're flying from now on,' " he laughed.
But first things first.
Smith has a senior year to play. Alongside Virginia recruit K.P. Parks, he envisions a repeat.
"I want to get some more rings," Smith said. "That's what it's all about now."