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May 20, 2008

Kendall Smith ready to start

While the loss of Marcus Ball is a blow to the defense, if there's a position that could handle a setback or two it is probably linebacker. The main reason for the optimism is that Chuck Amato's unit is brimming with up and coming young talent.

The talk since signing day has been primarily centered on former five-star linebacker Nigel Bradham, and for good reason, but there's another young former Rivals100 member manning the position that should play a major role this season, and possibly even start.

When he signed with Florida State in 2007, Kendall Smith wasn't quite a five-star prospect, but he was close and was rated by Rivals.com as the number one linebacker prospect in the state of Florida. And this past spring, he spent most of the four weeks lining up with both the first and second team units at strong-side (Sam) linebacker. When the season opens on September 6th he will be the odds on favorite to start at that spot.

"We had some people leave but the thing about it is we've got so much help coming in that we don't feel we'll slack off in any part of the game," Smith told Warchant.com. "We feel we'll be alright. I'm confident in the help that we have coming in, the young guys."

Since he hasn't even been on campus for a full year yet, Smith is one of those young guys but he is starting to act like a veteran. That is very apparent in the weight room where Smith is one of the hardest working players and is also one of the strongest. In fact, the hard-hitting defender is closing in on a 400-pound bench press and a 500-pound squat, and expects to reach both goals by the start of two-a-day practices in August.

"I've got to get better for the team," Smith said. "Coach (Todd) Stroud is putting us in head first, he is trying to get us better and get us ready for the season and two-a-days."

With Ball no longer in the mix, and Dekoda Watson expected to miss the first three games because of a suspension, Smith will be one of the few linebackers with real game experience since he had the opportunity to start in the Music City Bowl against Kentucky. But the rising sophomore believes he's grown a lot since that game and expects to be a more complete player now that he has a year under his belt. And unlike that December bowl game, the 6-foot-1, 226-pound linebacker expects to line up as a starter this season which is driving him to workout like the other starters.

"That's one of the key things that is pushing me and is helping me to try to stay in shape and stay healthy - the fact that I have a good shot at being a starter," Smith said. "I don't want to be above my head so I'll keep working hard to get better and help the team out."

Smith's contribution to the linebacker corps should take some of the sting out of losing Geno Hayes to he NFL draft and Marcus Ball to a transfer, but it will take more than his emergence to make the unit excel. As a result, veterans Dekoda Watson and Derek Nicholson recently organized a linebacker-only meeting to discuss how they can make their unit one of the best on the team. One of the decisions the group came to was get outside more and conduct practices in hopes of making the linebacker unit a well-oiled machine.

"Instead of us just watching film together we are going to go outside and catch balls, run coverages, play man-on-man with the running backs and do everything we can to get better for the season," Smith said. "Our segment that we've got now, we feel we are one of the strongest parts of our defense right now and we can be one of the best linebacker segments in the nation. That's why we are staring early to get everybody right, freshmen and all."

Smith says the every day player-run practices are a change from what the linebackers did last year and believes the additional time together will serve an additional purpose beyond just learning the plays.

"This is a pretty big departure because it's not only helping us out as linebackers, it's helping us get used to each other, getting along with each other and getting comfortable around each other," he said. "We are doing that so we can be pretty in sync as a unit. When Coach Amato feels that this person can go in and when he goes in we'll all be comfortable that he can do his job."

Throw in other promising young players like Nigel Bradham, Maurice Harris, Vince Williams, Aaron Gresham and Nigel Carr and it's easy to see why the position should be a team strength for years to come.


Gene WilliamsGene Williams is the founder and administrator of Warchant.com and writes stories and features covering all of FSU's sports with an emphasis on football and football recruiting. For seven years, Williams hosted a weekly sports radio show in Tallahassee. He currently appears as a weekly guest on 1010 XL Sports Radio in Jacksonville and 1270 The Team in Tallahassee during football season. Williams is also a former ACC correspondent for College Football News (weekly national newspaper), and contributes to The Osceola. Story about Gene Williams & Warchant.com.

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