The Penn State football team was off this week, which means it also was an off-week for Jordan Smith.
Smith, the 6-foot, 187-pound defensive back from suburban Washington, D.C., has been a regular at Nittany Lion home games this season since verbally committing over the summer, and he'll be part of the squad himself when he enrolls in January. Smith, though, had been following Penn State long before its coaches offered him a scholarship after a strong camp showing back in June.
"I got into liking Penn State when I saw some of my brother's old teammates go to Penn State and do well. I used to stay home and watch them on TV. That grew on me," said Smith, whose older brother, Stephen, played football with former Lion Derrick Williams at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md. and also was friends with one-time PSU linebacker Navorro Bowman.
"That was my dream school."
It was enough of a dream that Smith, who is also close with Lion cornerback Stephon Morris and is trained by Morris' father, Roman, jumped at Penn State's scholarship offer despite the fact that it came right after the NCAA handed down heavy sanctions on the Lions following the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Smith said he saw more from Penn State than the opportunity to go to a bowl game.
"One thing that is not going to change about Penn State is the academics. Penn State is a great academic institution. A degree from Penn State speaks volumes in the job market. They have an outstanding coaching staff with a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge about the game. It's just a great place to be. So, once they offered me, I didn't hesitate."
Smith had offers from a half-dozen colleges, including Colorado, Illinois and Kansas.
One of three secondary players and 11 recruits overall in Penn State's 2013 class so far, Smith is a big, aggressive combination defensive back who likes to try to emulate players like Ed Reed and Charles Woodson. Before transferring to H.D. Woodson after last season for financial reasons, Smith had his second straight 60-plus tackle season at Archbishop Carroll High School, also registering four sacks, two interceptions and a blocked field goal.
Smith's coach at Carroll was Rich Houchens, who coached Williams at Eleanor Roosevelt. Smith played both corner and safety and got experience playing all coverages from press man to off man to zone.
"I think he should go to safety first, because he's a very good cover kid, he's very technically sound. When you take that kind of skill set and put him on the back end, you'll gain another kid [who can cover], like [Stephen] Obeng-Agyapong," Roman Morris said. "He's a little more seasoned in coverage, so you almost get another kid like Adrian Amos in your back end who'll still bring the physicality as well."
Because of transfer rules, Smith isn't allowed to play for Woodson this season. Instead of sitting back, he is training with the older Morris and former NFL star Troy Vincent at their defensive backs school.
"It gets me excited just talking about Coach Troy and Coach Rome. They taught me everything. They made me the defensive back I am today," Smith said. "Without them, I don't know where I would be. Those guys were such a blessing to my life, honestly."
Smith also is helping out with his father's youth basketball team as an assistant coach, scorebook keeper and clock operator in his free time. The elder Morris has known Smith's family for almost 10 years.
"He's a great kid. You can trust him in the classroom, outside of the campus in the community and on the field," Morris said. "As a defensive back, he's a big, physical kid. He's fast. He plays smart. He won't have any trouble picking up the schemes. He's a coach's dream.
"I think he only has a two-star rating. He might not have the skill set of these four- or five-star kids. But you're not going to outwork him. He's going to become better, because, whatever he's missing, he'll make up in work ethic."
Smith said Stephon Morris has been another big influence on him.
"He's like my big brother. He's my mentor. We talk all the time. He's always teaching me things on and off the field. Stephon is a great person," Smith said.
Smith began playing football when he was 3 - "My brother gave me a football coming out of the womb, I guess you could say," Smith said.
Larry Johnson began recruiting Smith after a strong showing at Penn State's camp on June 2. He told the Lion coaches he was coming on July 24, right when news of the NCAA sanctions broke.
Smith has been impressed with what he's seen from the Lions so far this season.
"Each game, it's like they're playing better and better. They get faster and even more physical," Smith said. "The defense is playing outstanding. Coach Roof, Coach Butler, Coach Johnson, all the defensive coaches, they've just got those guys so fired up. They're playing with so much intensity. Coach O'Brien is one heck of an offensive coordinator. Penn State is going to be scary for teams to prepare for."