SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Breaking down the top ten performers in Saturday's 73rd annual Shrine Bowl of…
It's arguable who has had the better past 16 months: that jolly old elf from the North Pole or University of Arkansas football commit Chris Smith.
Consider that Smith has led his Mount Ullah (N.C.) West Rowan program to two straight state titles, been on teams that have won 30 straight games, pledged to sign with the University of Arkansas and was named the MVP of last Saturday's Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas after recording 8 tackles, 2 sacks and taking a fumble back 67 yards for a touchdown.
Did I mention the 6-2, 231-pound defensive end has over 200 tackles and a whopping 48 sacks over the past two seasons?
"Yes, things have gone pretty good for me and my teams over this last two seasons," Smith said. "My team and I have just come out and tried to play hard on every snap and leave nothing on the field. It's been quite a joy not having to experience what losing feels like this last two years."
Smith and his teammate and Virginia commit K.P. Parks – who led their team to a 17-0 mark this season - have one more game to keep that winning streak alive as they left Saturday to prepare to play Jan. 2 in the Offensive-Defensive Bowl in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"We've come this far and don't want to let it go after all that," Smith said. "We are going to get after it the best we can to come out on top in this one as well."
His highlight play in the Shrine Bowl was picking up the fumble with 2.8 seconds left in the first half and dashing 67 yards for a touchdown.
"That's what every defensive player dreams of – scooping and scoring," Smith said. "My buddy knocked it loose and I was off to the races and running as fast as I could to get there."
Parks knew his teammate was headed to paydirt.
"Chris is a freak of nature," Parks told the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. "When he gets going like that nobody can catch him."
Scout.com recruiting analyst Miller Safrit certainly liked what he saw from Smith in the contest.
"High-motor player was expected to have an impact on this type of game, but few expected anything close to his defensive MVP performance in which he returned a fumble for a touchdown and tallied eight tackles with two sacks," Safrit writes. "Nearly unblockable against some solid college-bound offensive linemen for South Carolina, used a wide array of moves with good footwork to get into the backfield early and often. "
Smith was the third member of a 2010 Razorback recruiting class that is now up to 15 solid commits.
He committed in June after taking an unofficial visit to Arkansas and chose the school over Kentucky, Virginia, Duke, Wake Forest and East Carolina, the UA's Liberty Bowl opponent.
"There has never been any doubt with me," Smith said. "Some other schools have offered me since then - I got two from Duke and Wake Forest right after this last game – but I have just told them I am going to be a Razorback and that's that."
He watched as many UA games as he could on television this season and also got to see the Razorbacks' 63-27 win over Eastern Michigan live in Fayetteville on his official visit on Halloween weekend.
"I loved Arkansas' explosive offense and they've got one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Ryan Mallett," Smith said. "I also thought the defense just kept coming and getting better as the season went along. I really liked watching Jerry Franklin and the toughness he showed out there. I am looking forward to getting up there and following his leadership and helping to make the defense as good as it can be next season. The Arkansas coaches have told me to come ready to play and make an impact and that's what I am looking to do."
Arkansas coaches are planning on lining Smith up at defensive end, but he is likely to also see some snaps at outside linebacker – where he first thought he would be playing in college.
"The Razorback coaches look at me as a hybrid guy," Smith said. "They are saying that they are planning to use me most as a defensive end as a speed rusher off the edge. I would also line up at linebacker some. But mostly they want me to be in the best position to put pressure on those quarterbacks in the SEC."
Smith says that he patterns his game after Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney (6-1, 268), one of the NFL's better defensive players and someone who has 11.5 sacks so far this season.
"I love watching him play," Smith said. "He is not the biggest guy, just like 6-1, but does so many things to get to the quarterback and just is so hard to stop. That is what I have been in high school and hope to work on being in college once I get to Arkansas."