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Tracking the College Gridiron Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Wednesday, August 18, 2004

By Sammy Batten

Future Pirate tough-guy 'lives for football'


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Josh Smith wanted to play football so badly as a seventh grader at East Garner Middle School that he showed up for the first practice despite a broken arm.

“I had broken my arm riding my bike,’’ Smith said. “I think that’s the only reason I made the team because I tried out with a cast on my arm.’’

The toughness Smith exhibited that day has become his calling card as a linebacker at Garner High School, where the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder will be a starter for a third straight season in 2004. It’s also one of the reasons East Carolina extended a scholarship offer after Smith attended a one-day camp in Greenville on July 17.

Smith decided to accept the offer during the first week of August, thus becoming the first member of ECU’s recruiting Class of 2005.

Dave Thomas, III, a quarterback/defensive back from Murfreesboro (TN) Riverdale High and running back/defensive back Craig James of Jacksonville (FL) Lee High have since pledged that they will pursue their college careers at East Carolina.

N.C. State was also recruiting Smith, but the Pirates beat the Wolfpack to the punch by becoming the first school to offer.

“N.C. State, I don’t know where I was on their recruiting list, but they were recruiting me,’’ Smith said. “They had to come see three or four of my games this season (before offering), from what I was told. My Dad and my uncle went there. My dream was to go there and play, but at the same time I don’t know if there was a chance for me to play there because of the number of linebackers they’ve recruited.

“I just know I like East Carolina a lot and I like having the chance to play when I get there. I’ve never had to sit the bench in football before. So it appealed to me that I might be able to get on the field and play there very quickly.’’

ECU’s current linebacker corps is heavy on upperclassmen with six of 10 players listed at that position entering pre-season camp are juniors or seniors. Two other linebacker-type players who topped the pre-season depth chart at the defensive end or “Bandit’’ position are also juniors.

Smith said the Pirates have recruited him to play a position he’s played since his middle school days — outside linebacker.

“I played on the fifth-quarter team in the seventh grade,’’ Smith said. “That was a chance for people who didn’t play in the regular game to play an extra five minutes. I played one game as a cornerback, but nobody ever passed so I was basically an outside linebacker. Ever since then I’ve played that position.

“I’m quick and I don’t mind hitting anybody at all. I don’t care who you are. I’ll hit you. I just have a natural passion for the game. I live for football.’’

Smith’s passion was evident in a junior-season performance that earned him all-conference honors. He piled up 163 tackles, sacked the quarterback five times and intercepted two passes last year. Smith returned one of the interceptions for a touchdown and also blocked a punt.

If that wasn’t enough, Smith also contributed to the team on offense as a power back where he executed 14 pancake blocks.

Garner coach Nelson Smith, who is a former ECU player, believes the Pirates have gotten a steal in Smith.

“He is a tough, hard-nosed kid,’’ Nelson Smith said. “He plays hard and doesn’t complain much when something happens to him. He very seldom comes out of the game for us.

“Josh has tremendous speed. I think his best time so far has been 4.47. He’s 6-2, about 205 or 210 right now, but I can see him getting to around 230. Once they get him up there and work with him in pass coverage I think he’ll be a good drop linebacker.

“I don’t know what these other schools were looking for. I don’t know if it was his lack of weight or what. But I think ECU is getting a steal. I’m tickled to death he’s going there because I went there.’’

Garner has compiled a 19-5 record during Smith’s first two varsity seasons and appears poised to make a run at the Triangle Alliance 4-A Conference title this year. Playing for a winner in college is important for Smith, so he had to be convinced Pirates’ 1-11 record last season was a fluke before he committed.

ECU coach John Thompson proved persuasive on that point.

Coach Thompson just seems real confident,’’ Smith said. “I’ve seen other instances where after a coaching change a program struggles, then the next year they come out and have a great season. Coach Thompson seems to be the kind of coach who can make that happen. I went to nine or 10 camps this summer and his was the best by far. It was very organized and nothing was messed up.’’

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02/23/2007 02:36:17 PM

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