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January 15, 2010While the best prospects in the class of 2010 took the field at the Alamodome in San Antonio for the Army All-American Bowl last Saturday, junior Donovan Smith watched intently from the stands. Smith, a 6-foot-7, 280-pound tackle from Owings Mills, was invited to participate in a special underclassmen combine held prior to the big game. But he wasn't eligible to play in the game itself.
So in the stands he sat, dreams of All-American glory abound.
Could an Owings Mills product become an All-American? Don't laugh. The notion isn't so farfetched. The state of Maryland sent four of its top 2010 prospects to San Antonio this year and Smith is fast becoming one of the best 2011 has to offer.
"Smith has to be one of the top prospects in the state of Maryland, and possibly the top lineman in the state," wrote Rivals recruiting analyst Barry Every, who covered the Army Combine. "Physically and athletically he reminded me of current Oklahoma commit Daryl Williams who excelled at this camp last year."
Unlike Williams, Smith is still a relative unknown coming out of a Division 1A school that is hardly a recruiting hotbed. But after his performance in San Antonio, Smith is on plenty of college radars. At the combine, he earned a top-10 linemen ranking and was named Second Team All-Combine.
"I did real well; a lot of scouts and recruiters were talking to me," Smith said. "There was one play where I pancaked this defensive end and he was probably the best guy I've faced yet."
Smith has all the tools to be a dominant college left tackle. At 6-7, 280, he possesses the necessary God-given size. He also has long arms like former Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden, an athletic base and good bend in his knees. On top of that, he can move.
"He has good speed and agility for his size; he really has good footwork," said Owings Mills coach Steve Lurz. "He's set up to be a great blindside pass blocker."
But playing left tackle isn't all about size and skills. With maniacal defensive ends bred to terrorize quarterbacks, an offensive lineman needs to be as mentally tough as a 1930s Alcatraz prison guard.
"Look, I play defensive end at Owings Mills, and I don't want my quarterback to get hit the way I hit some quarterbacks," Smith said. "When I'm at left tackle, I feel my quarterback shouldn't have to worry about his blindside. That's his spot to do whatever he wants."
Smith gave his quarterbacks plenty of time to throw last season. Although he was passed over for most All-State teams - Owings' Mills dismal 3-6 record may have had something to do with it - Smith didn't allow a single sack and often overpowered the smaller defensive linemen.
In Owings Mills' 12-0 victory over Loch Raven - which was the Eagles' first win in 53 games, snapping a Maryland record for futility - Smith looked like the Abominable Snowman stomping on a few stray elves.
"He wiped out the whole left side of their line," Lurz recalled. "There were several times where he took out the defensive tackle, pushed him back and wiped two others guys out."
Smith started his high school career in his hometown of Long Island, N.Y. He attended Amitville Memorial High, a school similar in size to Owings Mills. But after his freshman year, his uncle, George Smith, brought Donovan down to Maryland.
"He didn't want me to get in trouble," Donovan said. "But when I came to live with my uncle I needed to find a school and there weren't many around. So it was Owings Mills or nothing."
Smith towered over the rest of the Owings Mills student-body. Like the gaping students, the football coaches were awestruck by his size. And when they saw him move on the field, there was little doubt Donovan Smith would be anchoring the varsity line's left side.
"I knew with his talent and with a little hard work he was going to be a special player," Lurz said. "He already had all the tools. We knew we could develop him into something special."
But Smith's emergence was delayed. He hurt his elbow early in his sophomore season, which forced him to miss a number of games. After an offseason spent working out, Smith was ready to bust out his junior year. Last season he single-handedly controlled games by opening up crater-sized holes and nullifying the pass rush.
But does it really count when the opposition was a foot smaller and 90 pounds lighter? It begs the question, Wouldn't Smith be better off at a larger school playing against better competition?
"Sure, you'd like to see him against DI players, but I think he actually matches up better against guys his size than some of the smaller guys around here," Lurz said. "These smaller guys are quicker off the ball and they can give him fits. He plays with a low pad level, but some guys are so much shorter and faster it's hard to adjust. It's helped him with his footwork and quickness."
Smith, for his part, says he's just fine playing at Owings Mills.
"I don't feel like I'm too good for this school at all," said the happy-go-lucky Smith. "I like it here."
While Owings Mills lacks star power, it ultimately shouldn't hurt Smith's college aspirations. By attending camps and combines, recruiters will know about him soon enough. He's receiving early interest from Michigan, Connecticut and West Virginia, and Maryland assistant coaches James Franklin and Don Brown have already paid him a visit.
"[The Maryland visit] was exciting because it came out of the blue," Smith said. "I got a call out of class and there's James Franklin and Dan Brown standing there. I mean, I see those guys on TV. It was pretty cool."
To earn a BCS offer, however, he's going to have to hit the weight room (his bench and squat are below par for a Division I recruit, according to Lurz). Plus he'll have to work on his footwork, excel on the camp circuit and have a dominant senior season. Then, maybe, he'll get his scholarship offer. And perhaps an Army All-American invitation.
"Next year you'll see a new and improved me," Smith said. "It'll be my skills now times 10. But there's a lot to do to prove I can go Division I."