Smith stronger after ACL injury

ALISO VIEJO, Calif. -- DaMarcus Smith (Louisville, Ky./Seneca) seems to take his old, worn football with him everywhere he goes.

The football has seen better days, he'll admit.

"It's my lucky football; I've had it since my freshman year," Smith said. "It's a nice old ball; it's pretty well broken in."

But behind the ball lies a story of adversity off the field and one can only hope redemption on the field.

Just making it to the ESPN RISE Elite 11 camp has to be considered an accomplishment for Smith. It was a year ago that Smith tore his ACL and was forced to miss his junior season.

Doctors told the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder that the expected rehabilitation time was 18 months -- meaning his junior and senior seasons would be gone. Instead, Smith was cleared in six months.

"It was a tough process. It was the first time I had to face any real adversity," Smith said. "I came into high school on a pretty good note athletically.

"I started my freshman year and had a good sophomore year so I was excited about what I could do my junior year, and just missing that year, it taught me a lot about life."

Smith said there were no secrets to his speedy recovery. He put in a lot of time on the treadmill and a lot of time in the weight room, building strength in his lower body.

Right now, the only thing Smith hasn't done is take a hit, but he's eager for that day to come.

"I'm starting to get past the mental stage of recovery. I just need one big hit," Smith said. "I told my coach that as soon as we get in pads, line me up and let me take a couple hits. After that, I'll be fine."

Smith's recruiting came to almost a standstill after the injury. Many of the major programs that were ready to offer him backed off once he went down.

Louisville, however, stayed with Smith throughout the recovery process, and in December he chose the Cardinals over offers from Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Purdue and Ohio.

"Staying at home was a big advantage, but I looked into which schools were still going to be recruiting me after the big injury," Smith said. "A lot of the ones that were going to offer decided to wait until my senior year to see how I was going to look.

"But U of L always showed that commitment, and they have always been straight forward with me. They want me to be the quarterback of the future."

Even with the Cardinals' commitment to Smith, his commitment to them wasn't completely solid until Charlie Strong was hired.

"I wasn't sure about U of L's future until they hired Coach Strong," Smith said. "That showed me that they were serious about winning, and if you look at the guys he's bringing in, he's very committed.

"We talked the day after he got hired, and he left a great impression on me."

Strong's winning tradition during his time as the defensive coordinator at Florida was a big selling point for Smith.

"He comes from a big program that's won championships," Smith said. "And he's bringing that mentality to Louisville. It's a great time to be part of that program."

And for Smith, his appreciation of his future opportunities has a lot to do with the work he's done to get back on his feet.

"[The injury] made me a better football player and a better person," Smith said. "I appreciate the game and I don't take anything for granted. I cherish every moment."

Diggin' up dirt
Stanford commit Evan Crower (San Diego, Calif./St. Augustine) has yet to find any dirt on his roommate at the camp, USC commit Cody Kessler (Bakersville, Calif./Centennial).

But give him time.

"Well, he takes quick showers, I know that," Crower joked. "He hopped in and out when I was getting done with a text message.

"I might pick up some other stuff later."

In all seriousness, the two future conference rivals have quickly become fans of each other and look forward to clashes on the field down the road.

"I think he's a great guy and a heck of a quarterback," Crower said. "We'll be keeping track of each other, and I think we'll be rooting for each other."

One thing Crower has struggled with is the target challenge. He and Kendal Thompson (Moore, Okla./South Moore) are the only left-handed throwers at the camp, and the targets appear to be more favorable to the righties.

"Yeah, I think that's the thing; they might need to move the targets to the other side for Kendal and I," Crower said.

Smooth transition
J.W. Walsh (Denton, Texas/Guyer) plays in a spread offense like many high school quarterbacks, but he's getting a quick education in many of the under-center techniques this week.

"It's been different, but I knew that this is what they were going to want to see out of me this week," Walsh said.

So he spent last week preparing and working on his drops.

"I did a lot of drops and some no-hitch stuff," Walsh said. "And I worked on the seven-step drop that no one really does anymore."

Overall, the Oklahoma State commit says he is much more comfortable with the techniques and feels like the additional education can only help him when he gets on campus at Stillwater next year, even though the Cowboys primarily use a shotgun, two-back offense.

"It always helps to have that in the arsenal," Walsh said. "Especially if I needed to do the dropback stuff at OSU, and later in my career if I get to the NFL, they definitely want you to know how to do it."

Mr. Accuracy
With a score of 28, Archie Bradley (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow) had the top score of the week on the second day of the Golden Gun Accuracy Challenge.

He will assume the jersey from Day 1 winner Teddy Bridgewater (Miami/Northwestern).

Bradley's pinpoint accuracy was most impressive in the long tosses, where he hit the target twice.

"I think it was a lot of luck and maybe the right trajectory," Bradley joked.

He is rooming with fellow Oklahoma commit Thompson, and the two have quickly bonded.

"Kendal and I actually played baseball against each other when we were younger," Bradley said. "When I committed, he sent me a text saying congratulations.

"We are learning from each other and talking about how exciting it's going to be to compete when we get on campus. It's a good deal."

Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at coreyespn@gmail.com.