We introduced you to Alabama’s newest tight end, Irvin Smith, on Monday morning.
The Brother Martin (New Orleans) senior is nearly set to join the Crimson Tide — he leaves for Tuscaloosa at the end of May — and SEC Country was able to sit down with him in Marrero, La., last month.
His father, Irvin Smith Sr., might ring a bell with 1990s football fans.
The elder Smith was a star for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame before the New Orleans Saints selected him No. 20 overall in the 1993 NFL Draft. He and Rose Matamoros, Smith Jr.’s mother, met during his five-season stint in the Bayou, and their only son was born in 1998.
Despite the gridiron bloodline, Smith, Jr.’s parents held him out of tackle football until eighth grade, so he used his size to dominate the hardwood instead.
“I was a strong advocate for basketball, but realistically, he doesn’t have the height,” Matamoros told SEC Country. “His build is more of a football build. But he’s got the skills. His high school coach said, ‘I’m so mad I didn’t use him more as a point guard.’ Freshman year, he was the point guard. But he was so big, they had to use him as the big man.”
When the kid — who now stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 230 pounds — was finally allowed to hit the gridiron as a 12-year-old, it was a dream fulfilled.
“He fell in love with it,” Smith, Sr., said. “And it was like basketball took a second seat to it immediately.”
Not only did Smith Jr. have a father who played at the highest level, but he’s also had a de facto advisor who helped him wade through a tough recruiting process.
“I went through this 25 years ago,” Smith Sr. said. “The only thing that’s changed is a few of the rules in terms of benefits and paying for certain things. But for the most part, this process is exactly how it was 25 years ago. So I told my son: ‘Enjoy it. Be very objective.’ And just make sure that he realizes at the end of the day, you’re gonna have one coach happy and a bunch of ‘em upset, so you have to make the best decision for yourself.”
A broken leg his sophomore year prevented many coaches from showing interest early on, but Smith Jr. recovered convincingly enough to receive his first two offers — Tulane and Miami (Fla.) — on the same day during his junior basketball season. Several prominent schools soon joined in the fray.
Along with the new offers, his switch from wideout to tight end the previous season made him a nationally ranked prospect.
“He always wanted to play wide receiver, the glory position,” Smith Sr. said. “I kept telling him, ‘Irv, you’re gonna be too big to be a wide receiver. I’m just telling you: You’re gonna be a tight end.’”
From a geographical standpoint, the Brother Martin star seemed like a good match for LSU. There was a family connection in Baton Rouge, too: Assistant coach Dean Dingman was Smith Sr.’s first professional agent in the early ’90s.
But the family never gave LSU much of a shot, Smith Sr. said, and scheduling conflicts put the nail in the relationship’s coffin.
“Irv always loved LSU because he’s from New Orleans,” said Smith Sr., who has lived in Phoenix for more than a decade. “He was always talking about LSU. But when we thought about schools to go to, we never one time really, honestly, considered LSU. It’s a good school because it’s a Louisiana school, close to New Orleans, but at the end of the day, it just wasn’t the right program for him.”
Les Miles’ teams are not known for tossing the ball to the tight end, but neither were Nick Saban’s squads until O.J. Howard’s 208-yard, two-touchdown performance in the national title game.
Smith Jr.’s recruiting process featured a commitment and de-commitment from Texas A&M (which we touched on Monday and will examine in more detail later this summer) before he chose Alabama over Texas on signing day in February.
Howard’s performance vs. Clemson factored in significantly, as did Smith Sr.’s budding relationship with the Crimson Tide’s coach.
“We know so many of the same people,” Smith Sr. said of Saban, who was the Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator during the tight end’s first two seasons with New Orleans. “So many of the same coaches and players. We hit it off from the very beginning. We kind of talk the same language, and I couldn’t be happier that my son is going to the University of Alabama.”
Smith Jr. is ready to do his part in Alabama’s blocking scheme, but he also sees himself as an important part of Lane Kiffin’s pass-happy approach.
The other tight ends beside Howard are “mainly just blocking tight ends,” Smith Jr. said, adding: “I can do pretty much everything.”
Like father, like son?
“Oh yeah, his daddy was definitely one of those,” Matamoros said with a laugh. “He was like, ‘I’m not tryin’ to get my hands on the ground the whole damn time.’”
When they watch football together, the elder Smith doesn’t treat it like a film session. They prefer to kick back and speak casually on the couch; though Smith Sr. probably prefers silence when his old highlights come on.
“I mess with him a little bit if he did something bad,” Smith Jr. said, smiling.
With his final semester of high school nearly complete, the 17-year-old is off to learn from one of the best football staffs in the nation.
Smith Sr. spends plenty of time in the Dallas area for work, so he’s excited that his son’s first college game — vs. USC — will kick off in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 3. The rest of the schedule won’t be so convenient, but this is an autumn nearly two decades in the making.
“I’ll be at every game,” he said. “I won’t miss a game.”