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A UT fan growing up, Smith picks ND Irish

From “not even being on the map” as a high school football player to mapping a future at college football’s most storied program.

It’s been quite a successful rise for Knoxville Catholic standout Harrison Smith. Smith, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound skill position star recently named Tennessee’s Mr. Football 2006 among Class 3A backs and regarded as one of the Southeast’s top skill position high school seniors, said he will attend the University of Notre Dame.

His decision came during a press conference in the KCHS library Friday, Dec. 22, among family, teammates, school administrators and media, where the 17-year-old picked the Irish over UT.

Thanking KCHS head coach Mark Pemberton and his staff for their help in the process, Smith announced, “I’d just like to say that I’m going to be attending the University of Notre Dame.”

However, “I’ve always been a Tennessee fan, ever since I’ve been little,” Smith said after the press conference.

Why Notre Dame? “It was mostly just overall; I just felt comfortable with everything they had to offer,” Smith said.

The KCHS standout said his decision came Dec. 20, a Wednesday night, when he “just kinda sat down and thought about everything.”

As for deciding between the Irish and Vols, “It’s been back-and-forth for a long time,” Smith said. “Tennessee and Notre Dame have both been leaders,” adding that he “just kept coming back to Notre Dame. ... The players just kinda fit in with everybody else there, there’s not much separation.”

Smith said a quicker chance to play in the ND secondary — given the program’s anticipated depletion in that area — was “a factor” in his decision.

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis and his staff “recruited me with all the class that they could,” Smith said. “They never pressured me.”

Smith said he made three visits to South Bend: In 2005 when the Vols lost to the Irish; and this past fall witnessing ND blowout wins against Penn State and Stanford.

Meanwhile, Weis visited Smith at KCHS earlier this month — making a big splash among students while signing autographs.

Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer and his staff “always did it with class, they never pressured me [nor] told me I’m the hometown kid and I have to go there,” Smith said. “They always said, ‘do what’s best for you, even if it’s Notre Dame, just go there as long as you’ll be happy.’”

Pemberton remembered Smith being “just a little ole’ skinny kid playing freshman ball” who “was not even on the map” as a potential high school star in 2003 before his transformation.

“I could tell between his sophomore and junior year, his work ethic was tremendous,” Pemberton added, as Smith was a three-year starter in the KCHS defensive backfield before excelling offensively the past two seasons. “This guy worked his tail off to get here. In-between his freshman and sophomore year he matured a lot, and got a lot bigger and stronger.”

Pemberton, who said he expects Smith to see playing time in South Bend either as a freshman or sophomore, labeled his former star “a quality kid who did a great job with his decision, the way he came about it. We couldn’t be more proud of him. I think he’s going to a place that he’s going to be happy at.

“I really think he can help ’em this next year, as a freshman ... they’ll definitely need some help in the secondary, especially,” Pemberton added.

Jason Surlas, KCHS athletic director, said during the press conference, “Obviously what he’s done on the football field is major, but it’s just one small part of the kid that he is. He’s got amazing character, he’s very humble. And he represents everything we believe in here at Knoxville Catholic”

Smith reportedly elevated his ranking substantially as a recruit during the prestigious Nike Camp in Atlanta, Ga., last spring, recording one of the fastest 40-yard dash times among hundreds of recruits while running the fastest time in the shuttle run.

The Mr. Football honoree has been invited to the East Meets West All-American high school seniors game Jan. 6 in Orlando, Fla.

Smith can make his choice of Notre Dame official Feb. 7, which is National Signing Day.


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