When the area's top 12 high school football players gathered at Finley Stadium several weeks ago for a photo shoot, it didn't take long before their competitive nature took over.
Waiting their turns to get their pictures made, the members of this year's Times Free Press Dynamite Dozen began a contest to see who could hit the goal-posts crossbar at the pavilion end of the field with a football.
From the 40-yard line, one by one, the players launched their attempts. Standing about 10 yards behind them, near midfield, Ooltewah's Jacques Smith threw a perfect spiral that sailed well over the crossbar, between the uprights and ricocheted around the locker-room area -- a pass that sailed well over 60 yards in the air.
After a few seconds of silent stares and drop-jawed glances at one another, the other players looked back at Smith, who smiled sheepishly and returned to his place in line.
"Besides his obvious physical attributes, what separates Jacques is the fact that the kid just loves to compete," said Ted Gatewood, who was an assistant football and track coach at Ooltewah last year, helping Smith win the discus and finish second in the shot put at the state track and field meet.
Although his passing ability serves no purpose for him as a defensive end, it is just another example of the physical skills that make the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Smith the top-rated prospect in the state and the No. 1 player on this year's Dynamite Dozen.
"These are the best players in the entire area, but that kid just looks different," one coach said, pointing to Smith during the photo shoot.
Smith has been committed to the University of Tennessee since February and will graduate in December so he can enroll in January. Visits to Alabama and Georgia since have only seemed to solidify his verbal pledge. Smith, who proudly introduces himself as UT's first 2010 commitment, wore a Tennessee hat and T-shirt to the Finley photo shoot, and when asked by Dalton coach Adam Winegarden if there was a chance he might rather switch to a crimson colored hat, Smith responded, "There is no chance at all of that."
Since 2000, six players from the Chattanooga area have been named high school All-Americans. Smith and Calhoun's Da'Rick Rogers, who was No. 2 on the Dynamite Dozen list, will add to that total. Both have been named Under Armour All-Americans and have been nominated for the U.S. Army All-American team as well.
With the added attention he will get from opponents, it will be difficult for Smith to match last year's totals -- 79 tackles, including 29 for loss and 13 sacks. But Smith said he will approach that challenge the same as he does any other, including the passing contest at Finley.
"I'll just play as hard as I can and see what happens," said Smith, who was the Class 5A Mr. Football Lineman of the Year last year. "Coach (Ed) Orgeron tells me I'm going to be an All-American once I get up to UT. I don't argue with him. I just hope if I keep working at it that I can prove him right.
"The fact that so many of their coaches have NFL experience, when they tell you that they can get you ready for the next level, you tend to believe them. That's why I wanted to graduate early and get to UT as soon as I could."