The whirlwind last five days are over and Jacques Smith is back where he wanted to be all along. The former Ooltewah High School All America defensive end reconfirmed his commitment to the University of Tennessee and will be back at the school, attending class, by Tuesday.
"I felt like I was going to wind up back at UT but I wanted to talk with Coach (Derek) Dooley to make sure that's where I belonged," Smith said in an exclusive interview with the Times Free Press. "He started the conversation by trying to talk me into coming back and before he got very far I told him I would be back. I didn't want to waste any more of his time because we have a lot of other guys that he needs to be working on.
"I wanted to let him know real quick that I am still the guy who wants to play for Tennessee more than anybody."
Smith had been scheduled to begin classes last Wednesday morning, but after Lane Kiffin bolted UT for the USC job, Smith instead returned home to discuss his options with his family. He did not attend class the next two days either and although he never decommitted from the Vols, his future seemed uncertain.
"To be honest, I was just exhausted from everything that had happened," Smith said. "The last two weeks I had flown to San Antonio for a whole week to be in the Army All-American game, then right after I got back I was at Knoxville and all the craziness happened with Coach Kiffin. I just wanted to go home and rest and think about everything and make sure Tennessee was still the best place for me."
Smith said he did discuss his options of transferring to either Alabama or LSU with coaches from both schools, understanding that that would have meant filing paperwork with the Southeastern Conference for a hardship waiver and possibly sitting out one season. He even created a bit of a stir among recruiting services and internet chat rooms by posting on his Facebook page that he was considering offers from Alabama and LSU.
"Alabama's coaches were the first ones to call me after I came home," Smith said. "They got the jump on me and helped me see some things about Alabama that I hadn't thought of before. There was a time when I really thought a lot about what it would be like if I went there and made the decision tougher than I thought.
"But I never really liked their campus. I coldn't see myself as a student there and that's what it's all about. I love Tennessee and I can see myself not just playing there, but going to class, walking around the campus getting to know people, and cheering for everything from the track team to the basketball team because that's my school.
"The Facebook thing was just for fun. Me and (fellow UT commitment) Jawuan James thought it would be funny to mess with the fans and post something about maybe going to another school. He wanted me to say I was going to UTC, but I have too much respect for Coach (Russ) Huesman and his program, so I put the two schools that I knew I could never go to."
Smith will attend Ooltewah's football banquet Monday night before returning to UT and registering for his spring classes. He said he has his scehdule ready but just needs his counselor to help with the final registration work.
"I'm anxious to get back up there and get to work now that everything is settling down," Smith said. "There are a couple of (recruits) we can still get back. We lost Brandon Willis, but there are others we will get back and I will talk to a few of them myself and tell them that Coach Dooley seems like a real trustworthy guy so I think our program is going to be better off."