Jacques Smith already has a summer job, one that allows him to put a little money in his pocket before turning his attention to his senior season with the Ooltewah High School football program. But Smith also has taken on the added chore of an unofficial recruiter for the University of Tennessee, hoping to help the Vols pocket a few more prep All-Americans.
The Volunteers' new coaching staff is loaded with recruiting specialists, but Smith lends a hand in selling the program to other prospects and their families as often as he can. The latest sales pitch was last weekend when Smith came up for the final day of UT's three-day skills camp and became fast friends with the Vols' top quarterback target, Jesse Scroggins.
Scroggins was touring the UT campus with his family but did not work out during the camp. With help from mammoth Louisiana defensive tackle commitment Anthony Johnson (6-foot-4, 300), the personable and well-spoken Smith used a defensive drill to illustrate to Scroggins and his family the benefits of joining the Vols.
"We were doing some stunting drills, and me and Anthony were showing him how fast we can get to the quarterback," said the 6-3, 240-pound Smith, who is the state's top-rated prospect and is projected to play defensive end. "I told him, 'Trust me, you don't want to be on the wrong side of that.'
"Coach (Lane) Kiffin wanted me to meet Jesse's family, so I introduced myself as the first player to commit to the 2010 signing class. I'm proud of that and wanted them to know it. I told them I had helped stock up the defensive line, and now I wanted to work on getting some offensive help."
Scroggins is rated a four-star prospect by Rivals.com. Noted for his accuracy and mobilitiy, he currently is the highest-rated uncommitted quarterback in the nation. There are several reports that the Californian received an official scholarship offer this week from USC while at the Trojans' skills camp.
Although he said he doesn't want to pressure Scroggins, Smith admitted the two exchanged cell numbers and will stay in contact.
"If Jesse commits to us, you're going to see a bunch of big-time wide receivers, running backs and offensive linemen follow him," Smith said. "Once he does, everything will really start to fall in place for us. Players want to go where they're going to be surrounded by talent, and quarterback is the key for us right now.
"The staff has really done a good job of creating a great atmosphere for players. It's like an instant friendship with everybody up there. They did an amazing job in just a month and a half last year, and they've already got some studs for next year.
"I talked with Jesse about the whole process. I was recruiting him to join us but trying not to pressure him too much. I could already tell he was feeling good about it, and he said he loved the coaches, the facilities, the atmosphere and everything about Tennessee."
As for his own recruiting process, Smith said most of the calls from other programs ended once he went public with his intention to graduate in December so he could enroll at UT for the spring semester. The only school that has maintained contact is Alabama, but according to Smith, that was because he poor-mouthed the campus after visiting.
"Alabama coaches have said I'm the first player to ever say he didn't like the campus, so they want me to come back down for one more visit," Smith said. "When I went there, it just felt awkward. None of the players or coaches were talking to each other or interacting like we had at Tennessee. I got the impression that I didn't want any of the guys they had committed to be my teammates.
"Coach (Ed) Orgeron said he doesn't mind and told me to go ahead. He said those visits will just make me feel even better about coming back home to Tennessee. My job right now is to help UT be the program it used to be. Those good old days need to be now, in the present. And I want it to be that way not just for my four years but even beyond that. I want to come back like Peyton Manning and keep an eye on things and make sure it's going the way it should."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 23 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including nine in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers in the nation at the Associated ...