Jacques Smith moves on to the next phase of his life next week when he registers for classes at the University of Tennessee, and he'll begin working out with the football program shortly thereafter.
In the meantime, he has gotten a glimpse of the adjustment he will need to make to live up to his hype and become an early contributor for the Vols. Smith spent this past week in San Antonio preparing for today's U.S. Army All American Bowl, which kicks off at noon and will be shown live on NBC.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Smith said reality set in quickly that he no longer can rely only on his basic athleticism against top-level competition.
"These guys are all huge," Smith said. "Everybody here is a beast. One kid wears a size-22 shoe. Just about every offensive lineman I'll see from now on will be at least 300 pounds, and they're so strong and fast. I know I'll have to add some weight.
"I'm having to use my speed and spin move a lot since I'm smaller than these guys, but I think I'm proving I belong here, too."
Smith was the only defensive lineman to record a sack during an intrasquad scrimmage Wednesday and has been singled out several times by the East coaching staff, including Maryville High's George Quarles, who is serving as head coach. Besides having Smith line up at defensive end, Quarles also put the former Ooltewah star on the kickoff coverage team as the wedge buster.
"Jacques has had no problem whatsoever adjusting to the speed of the competition," Quarles said. "These kids are all very competitive, but he's got a nonstop motor and so much talent that he's made himself stand out.
"You hear a lot about the talent from Tennessee not being as good as other places, but Jacques is as good as there is from any state."
As he did throughout the fall, Smith has taken every opportunity this week to sell teammates on the benefits of joining him at Tennessee, including safety Ahmad Dixon and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who have recently shown interest in the Vols.
But Smith said he has paid particular attention trying to coax onetime Vols commitment Brandon Willis to reaffirm his intention of signing with UT. Willis decommitted last month after the NCAA began investigating the role of UT hostesses.
"I've been trying really hard to get Brandon to come back to us," Smith said. "I think he knows now that all that hostess stuff will just be a secondary violation and it's nothing to worry about, so I think he's thinking about coming back. With the guys we already have committed, getting him back would give us an unbelievable defensive line unit at Tennessee.
"I've packed about as much as I can into this week, and now I'm ready to do something special to make everybody back home, and all the Tennessee fans proud."