March 7, 2013

Smith clicks with Thigpen, will see Vols soon

MURFREESBORO --- When Butch Jones made the choice to so heavily reemphasize recruiting Nashville that he placed Tommy Thigpen in charge of the Midstate and made clear to other assistants that would be expected to put in work in the area, Jones sent a signal that he recognized the talent-laden region would become a staple of the Vols' recruiting efforts.

Thigpen is thriving in the area, and one of his top targets is Murfreesboro Oakland standout Emmanuel Smith, who last month picked up a Tennessee offer and now boasts an ever-expanding offer list. Oregon State, Memphis, Louisville and Vanderbilt also have offered the 6-foot-2, 198-pounder.

Thigpen, a standout for Tennessee native Mack Brown at North Carolina, has contacts across the South, and he quickly discovered a tie with Smith's father that has led to a blossoming relationship there.

"He's very funny. Him and my dad have a lot in common," Emmanuel Smith said of Thigpen and his father, who is a police officer. "They both came out of Georgia, and they knew the same coaches. The same coach coached them in football. They've got a lot in common and they talk sometimes."

Smith measures himself carefully. While fellow Playmakers Academy and In Full Motion peers Josh Malone and Rashaan Gaulden have been accumulating offers for some time, Smith is just now seeing his recruitment take a serious uptick. It's likely to grow more through spring and summer, but he is taking nothing for granted.

"Coming out here every week, you can never get enough work in to get better," he said. "Somebody's always out there working as hard as you, so I just want to put work in and get better than them.

"It's an amazing process. Very fun. I enjoy it, but I've also got to keep putting hard work in to keep it coming."

Focusing on his footwork and speed, Smith also has the benefit of being able to work to get better at home opposite his younger brother, 2015 prospect and fellow UT offer-holder Josh Smith.

"It's fun. We're always trying to compete to see who's better than who, and it's only going to make us better in the long run," Smith explained. "It helps a lot. He's always at home with me, so if we need to talk about it we can talk about it together. If I need work, he can come out there with me and if he needs work, I can help. We're just helping each other get better."

Still growing, Smith is seen by some as having the potential to grow into a linebacker at the collegiate level. But he's focusing his efforts on remaining at safety.

"I think I can be a safety at the next level," he said. "I have the ability to, I just have to put the work in to get it."

Smith said he will definitely make a return visit this spring to Rocky Top to see the Vols practice and catch up with Thigpen and Jones. He also said he would check out Vanderbilt's spring football practice as well.

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