January 13, 2008

Early enrollees begin UA careers

As signing day draws near, the drama of recruiting season continues to build for many high school prospects. But for two members of the Crimson Tide's 2008 recruiting class, the drama came to an end early last week. Placekicker Corey Smith and wide receiver Chris Jackson opted to enroll at the University of Alabama a semester early, forgoing their final semester of high school and beginning their college careers last week with the start of the spring semester at UA.

"I just want to take the chance to get used to college life so it's not as big of a change when football season comes around," said Smith, who is rated the No. 2 overall prospect from the state of West Virginia. "You get a head start on classes and getting a degree. I think mostly it will help me lighten my load and get comfortable."

"Everything's going well so far. It's been crazy and very different, knowing your parents aren't there to help you out," said Jackson. "I've been hanging out with a lot of the guys on the team, and they're doing a great job of making me feel at home."

The two newest members of the Tide members of the Tide may not line up on the field together much during their careers, but their common experience of being early enrollees has made them fast friends.

"Me and Chris are in all the same classes together so it should be a good semester," said Smith. "Chris is definitely a real down to earth guy, very easy to talk to."

"Corey is a good kid, very well spoken and cool to hang around with," Jackson said.

While joining the team a semester early provides several competitive advantages on the field, both players said their primary focus this semester was to get themselves acclimated to campus life and the academic demands of college.

"This semester I'm focused on trying to keep my grades up, focus on school and get a head start on classes," said Jackson. "It's going to be exciting in the fall when everything hits at once. Walking around campus, you can almost always see the stadium so football is always on everyone's minds."

For Smith, there's also the hurdle of getting used to living in a new climate and living so far from his West Virginia home.

"The major difference for me is the weather," Smith. "The majority of the coaching staff is either from West Virginia or has some connection to West Virginia so that's helped a lot. It's not that much different in terms of the atmosphere and the city."

As for on-field matters, Smith and Jackson will start their work next week when the team begins winter workouts but both have set their goals high for spring practice.

"I feel like I have a great shot of playing next year," said Jackson. "The door is wide open at the receiver position and this spring I'll get a chance to get familiar with the offense and get experience in all the practice drills."

Jackson, who hauled in 76 catches for 1,432 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at Henry County High School in Georgia, said he hopes to use the spring as a chance to not only compete for playing time but learn from his coaches and improve his skills.

"The biggest thing I need to work on is my feet," Jackson said. "Playing in the SEC, the speed I'll be facing every week will be crazy so I need to work on my feet a little more. I also want to try to get to know my quarterback and get our timing down."

Smith's goals are equally high, with the kicking specialist hoping to make a splash at multiple spots on the depth chart.

"My biggest goal is to start in all three kicking aspects," Smith said. "I don't have any doubt in my abilities and I know if I come out and work hard and compete then I can do it. My goal is to start at all three spots."

While some believe that playing all three kicking roles can be physically wearing on a kicker, Smith said he prefers playing as many snaps as possible.

"It's surprising to me when people say that. Even if you do all three, you're only on the field for at most 20 plays a game," Smith said. "I find it keeps me loose to be out there more. If you concentrate more on just one motion, it could possibly take away from your other abilities so I think it makes me better at punting, placekicking and kickoffs when I do all three."

Smith's goals match the expectations many fans have for the Tide's first scholarship kicker in recent memory. Smith said he appreciates the chance to be a scholarship player for the Tide and hopes to live up to his billing as one of the nation's top high school kickers.

"I'm very honored for Coach Saban to offer me a scholarship to play for Alabama," Smith said. "For any college to pay for you to get an education, much less a school with the tradition like Alabama, it's really a great privilege. It's an honor to know that I'm one of the few kickers that has had that honor in Alabama's long history."

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