Mr. Smith goes to Vanderbilt
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- With two legit BCS football prospects in their household, the Smith family could brag with the best of them. They choose not to.
But trying to goad the brothers and football prospects from Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Oakland into saying which is the better football player might be easier than actually beating them on the field. They'll deflect, simply smile and say they're basically equal athletes.
It's mostly the same for other endeavors. Basketball is perhaps the one activity that might prompt the most benign form of trash talking. Sort of. Josh Smith, a 2015 linebacker prospect, jokingly said he was the better hoopster.
"No sir. No sir," said his older brother, Emmanuel Smith, who committed to Vanderbilt last week. "That's always me."
When asked to retort, Josh grinned and replied, "Nah, it's not him. It's even."
The Smiths' father isn't surprised by the lack of lip. Demetrius Smith, a long-time police officer, has long demanded as much.
"I'm always teaching them to not be boastful," he said. "It's not about yourself. It's about being humble. Appreciate the opportunity you have presented to you. We tried to instill that into them since they were little kids. Always be humble. Let other people talk about them."
Those in the college football recruiting world are already chatting about the brothers. Emmanuel committed to Vanderbilt over scholarship offers from Louisville, Oregon State and Tennessee. Josh, just a sophomore, has a scholarship offer from Vandy and strong interest from the Volunteers.
Emmanuel's commitment to Vanderbilt is significant on its own. He's a bona fide SEC prospect. Of course, his decision could be even more significant if his younger brother eventually decides to be a Commodore. Time will tell if that's the case.
The elder Smith's commitment could have an immediate impact on 2014 prospects. Recently, Vanderbilt has won more recruiting battles against rival Tennessee than it had in recent memory. Tennessee's recent struggles, coupled with Vandy's improvement under coach James Franklin, have made the Commodores a worthy opponent on the recruiting trail.
But Tennessee's hiring of Butch Jones in December seemed to reverse the tide. Suddenly, the Volunteers were the hot team in the state, riding a wave of recent momentum fueled by top in-state prospects. But Emmanuel's commitment proved Vandy is still a force to be reckoned with. Adding Josh would be further proof that the Dores are no flash in the pan.
"It's pretty amazing," Demetrius said. "It's all that a dad can ask for."
The timing of Emmanuel's commitment to Vanderbilt surprised even his family. Most thought he would take his time selecting a school.
But the decision was clear for Emmanuel. "The coaches make it feel like a home away from home," he explained. "The team, I get along with great. Now the older guys are always helping the younger guys when they need it. Amazing school, sports and education wise."
The two brothers have long said they'd like to play college football together. However the Smith family is more than willing to watch the two play at different schools.
"I told Josh when Emmanuel committed that he had no pressure to go to the same school," Demetrius said. "His process is totally separate from Emmanuel's. If he went to the same school, that would be fine. If he didn't, that would be fine as well. Just like Emmanuel, he has to make his own mark too."
So far, Josh is making his mark more with potential than production. Injuries limited his play during his freshman and sophomore seasons. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, his size makes him an intriguing prospect. That's two inches taller than his older brother.
"Josh is a little bit bigger than Emmanuel, obviously," Oakland coach Thomas McDaniel said. "Emmanuel is a little more fluid, because he's not quite as big. But honestly, athletically, Josh is probably just as athletic as Emmanuel is."
McDaniel said he's seen Josh keep up with his older brother in offseason agility workouts. That's no easy feat.
"As far as his footwork goes his feet are just as good as Emmanuel's," McDaniel said. "For a kid to be 6-foot-4 and 215 [pounds], you can easily see where a college scout would be intrigued with the kid. He's got the frame to easily be a 240- or 250-pound kid, and he's got the feet of an SEC defensive back.
Emmanuel likely will end up in the defensive backfield. His younger brother almost assuredly will be a linebacker. Yet that's not the only difference between the two; their approaches to the game have been shaped by their experiences.
"He has internal drive. He's self motivated," Demetrius Smith said of his older son. "Josh has seen Emmanuel come up from 5-years-old playing little league football to where he's at now. I think that drove him to not make mistakes both athletically and academically. Josh is a more passionate, emotional leader. Josh is going to be vocal."
It's also worth noting that the Smith family is close friends with former Tennessee defensive back Buck Fitzgerald. He's likely to put in a good word about the Volunteers from time to time. For now, however, it is one brother recruiting another.
"Hard," Emmanuel Smith said when asked just how hard he'd recruit his younger brother to be a Commodore, "but he is still young and has time."
Plenty of it, as a matter of fact. Josh simply wants to stay healthy and prove he's as good as his potential suggests.
"We're excited about getting them on the field at the same time," McDaniel said. "Having two guys that size with that athleticism should be a big benefit for us. They'll both be great players."
College recruiters agree.