One of Donovan Smith's nicknames is "Always Humble.''
"That's one thing people always know about me,'' Smith said. "That's how I try to be.''
Considering the whirlwind that Smith's life has undergone over the last 15 months, that might not be as easy as it used to be.
Since August of 2009, Smith has helped turn around a football program that hadn't won a game in half a decade, emerged from almost out of the blue to become a blue chip prospect by turning in a standout performance at a top national combine and got a chance to show his stuff on the premier stage for high school gridiron talent, helping him earn a new nickname.
The former basketball player from Long Island turned standout offensive tackle from Baltimore became one of the foundations of Penn State's 2011 recruiting class when he committed to the Nittany Lions on national television during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 8, and he hopes to be the foundation of the Lions' line for years to come.
Smith picked Penn State over UCLA, North Carolina State and Michigan State to become the 12th member of this year's recruiting class. The Owings Mills, Md. star was long considered Penn State's to lose, and Smith said that was indeed the case.
"I'd been up there six times. The Michigan game was my official visit,'' Smith said. "I knew after the Blue-White Game I was 85-90 percent sure that's where I was going to go. But UCLA was an option. I thought I should see it before making a decision. I didn't want to commit and then end up decommitting.''
Smith's reasons for picking Penn State extended beyond athletics or social life. He cited academics first when asked why he chose Penn State.
"They're No. 1 in graduating players,'' Smith said. "They have all that, and it's a good program.''
Football only has been a small part of Smith's life. Growing up, basketball was his favorite sport. He only began playing football as a freshman at Amityville Memorial High School in New York. Then, his uncle, George Smith, moved with him to suburban Baltimore so he could grow up in a better neighborhood.
"My mother still lives in New York,'' the younger Smith, whose family also lived in the Pocono region of Pennsylvania for a while, said.
While Smith was growing as a person, he also was growing as a football player.
"I was the JV coach when he moved here,'' Owings Mills coach Steve Lurz said. "When he came, the varsity coach said he had a Division I body. After seeing him play his junior year, you got to realize the speed and athleticism he had.''
Owings Mills went 3-7 in Smith's junior year, not much to write home about until you consider the Golden Eagles had snapped a 53-game losing streak. This season, Owings Mills went 4-6.
Smith was growing as a young man, too. He said he is now 6-foot-6 and weighs 300 pounds, not far away from the dimensions of his football idol, former Baltimore Ravens All-Pro Jonathan Ogden.
After having success his junior year, Smith attended the underclassman combine at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas. That's when things really began to take off for him.
"I finished in the top 10,'' Smith said. "My uncle said, 'You could get your education taken care of with this.'''
While Owings Mills pro-style offense averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game, Smith's calling card is in pass protection. He hasn't allowed a sack in two years.
"He has long arms and good footwork,'' Lurz said. "He can lock on and stay ahead.''
Smith's progress got him invited to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl after his senior season. Behind Smith at left tackle, the East team drove down the field late and scored the go-ahead touchdown in a 13-10 victory.
"It was a great honor playing against a lot of top players,'' Smith said. "I had some people questioning me, saying I hadn't played strong enough competition.
"I think I proved myself.''
Smith has already formed friendships at Penn State with Quinn Barham, Rob Bolden and Evan Hailes, and Lurz thinks Smith's best days might be ahead of him.
"He only really has two years of football under his belt. He's gotten better each year. He has the frame and the body type to get bigger,'' Lurz said. "He has a lot of potential. He could end up playing on Sundays. I wouldn't be surprised.''