Not even those flashy, ego-boosting MTV cameras could save Alabama’s prized high school football program from Larry Smith five years ago.
Just a senior at Prattville (Ala.), Smith earned MVP honors after accounting for 174 yards of total offense as in a 35-21 win over Hoover (Ala.) in the 2006 Class 6A title.
Hoover had spent a year in the limelight as its popular reality show Two-A-Days ran on MTV, but Smith made sure it didn’t end the way it’s audience wanted.
Smith can’t go home without being viewed as a celebrity. Even with his family still residing in Prattville, Smith has a few members in the Birmingham-Hoover area and his 2006 triumph is still talk of the town.
Smith returned to Hoover for SEC media days with his Vanderbilt teammates last week, and though there wasn’t a Crimson Tide-like contingency to greet him, there were a few friends in town for him to see.
“We refer to Alabama as God’s country and it’s always good to come back home and relax a little,” Smith said.
Being home reminds the senior quarterback of his past glories, but it also reminds him that he has time to generate a little more acclaim before he calls his college career quits.
Smith has had an up-and-down career in Nashville. He was lauded for his first start in the 2008 Music City Bowl, where he completed 10-of-17 passes for 121 yards in the Commodores’ first postseason win in 53 years.
After that, his approval rating dipped considerably as Vandy has gone 4-20 in the past two seasons, including 1-15 in conference play. Smith completed 47 percent of his passes last season and has thrown 10 touchdown passes to12 interceptions the past two seasons.
Smith hears the criticism. He understands people have called for his starting job and he doesn’t really care. He learned at an early age that in order to succeed, he had to be thick-skinned. Smith found out the hard way after many rough one-on-one basketball games with his father growing up. The more he fell and cried, the more his dad pushed and the stronger Smith got.
And all that commentary he’s hearing now reminds him of the scraped knees from all those skids on the asphalt.
“I really don’t let those things get to me,” Smith said. “I build a wall around me and try go out there and do my best the next game.”
Things will be different, Smith assures. He’s surrounded by a new coaching staff and is under the tutelage of a quarterbacks coach that more than impressed Smith with his work with Josh Freeman at Kansas State.
Ricky Rahne has worked tirelessly with Smith on his technique and reading defenses. The most important lesson for Smith has been Rahne’s sessions on footwork. Smith said that in a more suitable pro-style offense, he’s learned to stand more comfortably and confidently in the pocket, greatly enhancing his delivery.
New head coach James Franklin gave Smith a fresh start, meaning his past was wiped clean, but he’d have to earn back his starting spot.
“Larry's got an opportunity,” Franklin said. “He did have a great spring, a very good summer from what all the players and strength coaches have told me. So I'm excited to get to camp and give him an opportunity to compete against a Jordan Rodgers, compete against the three freshmen we have coming in, then also some of the walk-ons as well.”
Like most at Vanderbilt, Smith is very excited about Franklin. He’s excited about the “360-degree” change in the confidence flourishing throughout the team. And he’s excited to pull a few surprises this fall.
Smith knows the expectations are low -- they always are -- but he and his teammates are embracing the disrespect and like being shunned by everyone.
“It’s exciting being under the radar,” he said. “People might take you lightly and you can sneak up on somebody and get them that week.”