Geno Smith says his cover skills could use some work and that he's a raw talent at cornerback, the position the senior from St. Pius X Catholic (Atlanta)
plans to play at Alabama.
His opponents say he's not as raw as he thinks.
"He's one of those type kids you could put on a receiver and shut him down," said Grady (Atlanta) coach Ronnie Millen, whose team played St. Pius for a region championship last year, and might again in 2011. "The kid is the real deal, no doubt."
Smith is the top-rated cornerback in country and rated as the No. 19 overall recruit in the Class of 2012 by MaxPreps
Millen is a good judge of his talent because Grady had one of the premier defensive backs in Georgia a year ago in Damian Swan, who started as a nickel back as a freshman last week for the University of Georgia.
Both were two-way stars for their teams in Georgia's Region 5-AAA. Both were about 6-foot, 170 pounds. Both made the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Super 11 team.
Millen believes Smith can have the same quick impact at the college level. Grady beat St. Pius 7-6 last season, but Millen admits that Smith did a great job on Swann the receiver.
"We weren't able to get the ball to Swann like we wanted," Millen said. "He's a threat on both sides of the ball, but he makes such an impact on defense neutralizing the passing game. He has great cover skills."
Smith is modest about it.
"I started playing cornerback my freshman year," Smith said. "I had always played linebacker. I liked contact and making tackles. That's the first thing I'd say about me, I'm a very good tackler. As far as defending, I'm pretty fast, but I haven't had much technique work. That's why I'm looking forward to Alabama and working with one of the best at the position. I'd say I'm pretty raw at cornerback."
For his senior season, Smith has been moved to free safety to use his ability to make tackles in the open field and get his team back in the huddle. He has run a sub-4.5-second 40-yard dash and has a vertical leap of more than 30 inches, so the raw athleticism is there.
Smith also has played a ton of plays in high school. He's a three-year starter on both sides of the ball. The only time he's off the field, except for blowouts, are on the kickoff and punt teams.
St. Pius is 4-0 and ranked in the top 10 of every Class AAA poll in Georgia. There has been only one close game – a 28-21 victory over Westminster – so Smith typically is limited to about three quarters.
As a result, his offensive numbers are a little down from 2010, when he rushed for 731 yards and scored eight touchdowns. This season, he's rushed for 209 yards on 21 carries and caught four passes for 52 yards. St. Pius runs a triple option, so blocking and decoy skills are important, too.
On defense, he has more tackles (7.3 per game) but might not match his seven interceptions from 2010.
Smith's four seasons at St. Pius might wind up being the school's best in history. St. Pius had top teams in the 1960s and 1970s but went 35 years between playoff wins from a 1968 state championship season until 2003.
St. Pius is 34-6 since Smith's freshman season. The 2009 team was probably the best in recent history. It finished 12-1 and lost in the quarterfinals in overtime to Peach County.
Smith believes this could be the best team he's played for.
"So far the best team is my sophomore season, but this team has all the makings to be better," Smith said. "They're similar in size, speed and athleticism. This could be the year, but it's all up to us. We all feel like we can win. In recent years, everyone had their doubts."
Smith committed to Alabama in August. He enjoyed the attention that recruiting brought him, for a while. But he's also glad it's over so he can concentrate on his team's chance for a state title.
"Why hold out when you know where you want to go?" Smith said. "A couple of days ago, that was my first day not getting mail in a long time. I don't miss it. I'm happy with my decision."