After coaching Anthony Smith for a semester at Valley Forge Military Academy, Josh Sands still is more than ever about his 6-foot-1, 186-pound cornerback.
"The only thing I don't understand," Sands said, "is why more schools weren't looking at him."
Smith's been wondering that, too. In fact, that's a big part of the reason he ended up at suburban Philadelphia prep school after graduating from Pope John XXIII High School in New Jersey.
"I didn't get a lot of exposure out of high school," Smith said. "I wanted to find the highest level I knew I could play."
Smith finally got the big offer he'd been seeking when Penn State stepped forward during an official visit last Saturday and joined Rhode Island and Gardner-Webb with a scholarship. Smith accepted one day later and became part of the Nittany Lions' 2013 recruiting class.
He'll be one of five new Nittany Lions to enroll next month, including fellow defensive back Jordan Smith from Washington, D.C. Penn State has commitments for four players ticketed to play in the secondary.
Smith was one of four players that verbally committed after a large group of players visited Dec. 7-9.
"It was everything I looked for in a school," Smith said after committing. "It's a great community, a great atmosphere. The education is top-notch. The guys on the football team are high-quality people, and the coaching staff is anything you could ask for."
Smith, who said he also used his time at Valley Forge to bolster his SAT scores, was the Trojans' MVP this season. As a senior at Pope John, he was second-team all-West Jersey according to the Newark Star Ledger and first-team all-area for the New Jersey Herald. He had seven career interceptions.
"He's a big guy [for a cornerback], and I think his athletic ability is pretty good. Penn State liked that he's a mid-year guy that can come in and still have four years of eligibility. Having a guy like that will definitely help them out a lot," Sands said. "He's excited to go."
Smith got a lot of experience playing man coverage as well as two-deep zone coverage at Valley Forge.
"His upside is huge. He has a ton of potential," Sands said. "All around, Anthony is a very great kid. He's willing to take criticism. He lives in the weight room. He's trying to get better every day."
Perhaps the thing that stood out most to Sands, though, was Smith's willingness to take responsibility. Smith offered to be the back-up quarterback heading into camp even though he'd never played the position before. When Valley Forge's starter got hurt, Smith was thrust into the starting role and remained there all season.
"It was a great experience," Smith said. "Everyone has always been telling me 'Anthony, you should play quarterback.' So I did here, and it went pretty well."
Although baseball was his first favorite sport, Smith got into football very early in life at the urging of his family and has been playing corner ever since. Ron Vanderlinden and John Butler recruited him.
"They like that I'm a bigger corner," said Smith, who is reputed to run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds.
Valley Forge has sent some pretty big names on to the NFL over the years, including Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Doleman. Smith's favorite player, though, made his name defending receivers for his favorite team, the Denver Broncos.
"I emulate Champ Bailey," Smith said. "He's not just a cover corner. He's not just a tackling corner. He's an overall corner. And he's just an overall good guy. He's somebody teammates look up to. You can count on him when the going gets rough."
Smith seems to take character very seriously. He's become part of a service fraternity.
"We usually go to the elementary schools and read to the kids," Smith said. "It's a really great thing. It teaches you how to be a better man."
Smith plans to major in business, following in his father's footsteps. He wants to take care of business on the field, too.
"Last year was a great year for Penn State," Smith said. "Next year, we have big goals. Hopefully, it can be a whole lot better."