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August 20, 2007

Hard work pays off

Success does not come easy. Of course some make it look easier than others, but often times as the saying goes it's like a duck on water, smooth on top but working like hell underneath.

Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith is a mountain of a man, standing 6-foot-5, 296 pounds, and considered one of the top players on the Baylor roster. However, it hasn't always been that way, and while it's easy to look at Smith and say he has all the tools, it took a lot of work to get to where he is and will take a lot more to get where he wants to go.

When Smith began his football career he was not much, but he was always willing to work.

"He was always taking care of his mother and his grandmother," said Mike Zoffuto, Smith's high school head coach. "He would go to practice and then he would go from practice to work and he worked until almost midnight every night. Then he would get his school work done and go to school."

On the field his work ethic was evident as well.

"The first thing I remember about Jason was as a freshman he was just real tall, and I'll bet he didn't weight but about 130, 140-pounds at the most," said Zoffuto "We were going to the playoffs and he said, 'Coach, can I hang around and go out with ya'll and maybe help on scout team?' I said, 'Sure you can do that if you want to,' and he did and I tell you what, the team voted him as the most valuable scout team player."

Smith was an All-District selection at offensive tackle as a sophomore and a junior, but the college programs did not come calling in the spring of his junior year. He was only 190-pounds then and college coaches were looking for more.

Zoffuto knew Smith needed to add weight, so he put him on a mixture of milk products, and told him to get in the weight room over the summer. By the time he reported for his senior year Smith weighed in around 220 pounds, and college coaches were beginning to come around.

"I actually saw him play in person before I actually saw his video, and I was really intrigued with his size," said Miami secondary coach Wesley McGriff, who was the Dallas area recruiting coach for Baylor. "I thought he had a tremendous high end. And I knew he had the potential to put on some weight. I didn't know he would get as big as he is now.

"I was real impressed with his academics, his demeanor, and just his work because I had a chance to watch him workout. Then I looked at his video and I thought he would be a big time defensive end initially."

The Bears didn't offer immediately, but it didn't take long, and Smith always knew Baylor was the place for him.

"I had a couple of offers and Baylor's where I wanted to be," said Smith. "First of all because of coach Morriss and the opportunities I would have to be here."

Even though Baylor was high on his list, his first offer came from another in-state school, and it looked like he could commit there instead.

"Actually Jason had received an offer from Houston and his coach told him 'You should go ahead and commit to Houston,' and he said 'No, I want to go to Baylor. I want to talk to coach McGriff before I make my decision.' That really sped the recruiting process up for us to try to make sure we got him in the green and gold before he went down to Houston or some other place," said McGriff.

Smith committed Oct. 10, 2003, before ever taking a visit to the Baylor campus and while offers from Minnesota and Kansas were placed on the table, he never wavered.

"Once Jason made that commitment, he said, "Coach, I'm not going to change my mind,'" said Zoffuto. "That's the kind of guy Jason Smith is. Once he gives a commitment he's not going to back out of it."

When he arrived in Waco he was a work in progress, but the potential was there for something big. He did not waste any time laying out his goals and getting to work

"Me and him talked when he first came in and became a tackle, and he said, 'Coach, I want to play in the NFL,'" said Baylor head coach Guy Morriss. "So we laid him out a plan, and he has been really diligent about following the plan as far as eating right, lifting, running, learning - he's very coachable and he's just been a dream to coach.

"The plan was difficult if you were 220 pounds, and when you are trying to get to 290 pounds within a three-year time period, it can be hard to keep the body fat percent below 20," said Baylor Strength and Conditioning Coach John Williams. "But it required a lot of extra work.

"We identified all of his weaknesses, which one of them was he was weak, and then we looked at some of his physical range of motion limitations and just set up a step-by-step process. What Jason identified was and what we reinforced was you can't skip steps and get to where you want to be. So we just made a detailed plan year-by-year, day-by-day until he's where he is today."

Since he has been at Baylor he has seen his numbers rise significantly in the weight room, and is one of the stronger players on the team. He can bench more than 400 pounds, squat over 500 pounds, and power clean more than 320 pounds, and when he is not working on himself he is usually helping someone else

"For the young guys the proof is always in the pudding," said Williams. "They see the results and say 'What are you doing?'. First everybody thinks it's some miracle - are you taking some supplement, what are you doing - 'I'm just following the plan,' that's Jason's answer is. And they just start buying into the plan, so they sought after Jason because of the accolades he was getting.

"They pretty much go to him, and now we pretty much lead all of our horses to the stallion. We have guys who have goals, and we say if you want to be successful follow this guy. He's our poster child for success."

He is not only a poster child in the weight room, he has emerged as one of Baylor's top talents on the football field.

"In the beginning he was very eager to learn, and Jason always wants to do good," said Morriss. "It was almost like you had to almost constantly calm him down because he was a wad of nerves. He was always the first guy to get off the ball to the point he jumped off sides sometimes last year. But he's learned to relax more and he's more comfortable there. He's kind of the leader of that bunch. He's going to be a heck of a player."

As a sophomore he played more snaps than anyone on offense and was able to learn from his mistakes. Heading into his junior season the rest of the conference is beginning to take notice, as are a few pro scouts.

"It's probably too early to say this, but I think he's going to play on Sunday's," said Morriss. "He's done a good job of keeping his head about him. He's been good with the young freshmen. He's been a leader. All the intangible stuff he's got it. You never have to worry about him working. He sometimes tends to over train, he's the first one in and the last one out."

Regardless of where his football career takes him, Smith is sure to go a long way.

"You're not going to find a better guy than Jason Smith," said Zoffuto.


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