Editor's note: Fourth in a series of stories spotlighting incoming recruits to the BYU football program.
PROVO — Jacob Smith is hoping his time at BYU ends up far better than it began.
The 6-foot-7, 308-pound offensive lineman was making his final round of camp visits, just prior to his high school season as a junior in the summer of 2016. BYU happened to be that final round, and after just a half hour of working out he incurred a broken foot.
He showed up again the next day hobbled, and depressed about the circumstances, but was soon greeted with some good news of a scholarship offer.
“I had a boot on, and yeah, it was absolutely a low point,” Smith said. “But when they offered — wow, that was amazing. I mean, I only did like 30 minutes of the camp, but fortunately, I guess, that was enough.”
He grew to love what he experienced at BYU, and grew an immediate connection with the coaching staff and the overall environment.
“I'm LDS, so BYU being an LDS school is a big thing, but I also just really fell in love with the coaching staff,” Smith said. “You can really appreciate the love and appreciation (coach Kalani) Sitake has for his players. That was a big thing, and it’s something I really want to be a part of.”
Smith committed a bit after receiving his BYU offer and eventually signed with the program back in December, shortly after Jeff Grimes was announced as the program's new offensive coordinator. His future position coach, Mike Empey, was still on staff, although his future was very much in question.
Shortly after signing his letter of intent it was announced Empey would not be part of Grimes' staff, a fact that didn't sit all that well with Smith and his family, initially.
“We were really sad about Empey. I mean, I had built a long and trusting relationship with the guy and then he's just gone, right after I signed. But we also know it’s a business,” Smith said. “I talked to Empey about it and he told me not to hold it against the new staff, or anything like that. He was just real supportive, even though it was really a sad thing for all of us.”
Shortly after Empey's replacement, Ryan Pugh, was announced, Smith heard from his new position coach.
“Coach Pugh sent me a text almost immediately that he wanted to come out to see me,” Smith said. “So he came out about a week after he was hired and what really struck me was how young he is. But he’s a great guy and I really liked him almost immediately.”
Smith still had questions, however, and for that reason made his way out to Provo to see Pugh operate up close, among other reasons.
“I went out there to be with the guys and I was able to sit in on Pugh coaching his guys and I loved what I saw," Smith said. "I could see how knowledgeable he is and I love how intense he is. It definitely impressed me and really made me excited about playing for him.”
Smith will arrive at BYU just prior to the 2018 fall practice session and hopes to make an impact, although mindful that warranting playing time for any first-year offensive lineman can be a difficult task.
“My goal is to make the traveling team,” Smith said. “I want to be in that second rotation. I’ll really do well if I can get that done my first year.”
Although Empey recruited Smith to play tackle, Pugh has mentioned other possibilities, which the Minnesota product is fine with.
“I’m up to playing anywhere,” Smith said. “Empey said he really liked me as a tackle, but I’ll play anything they want. I haven’t played center for years, but if that’s what they want, then I’m all for it.”
Expert breakdown by Ben Criddle
1. Smith's strengths: On film he's physically dominating, although it's against smaller competition. But you expect dominance from a guy that big, and he doesn't disappoint. You see what you'd want to see, in that regard.
I like how when he gets to the second level, he's really good at dipping his shoulder and ripping through. So he's been well-coached and will come to BYU with good technique and not raw.
I also like how he moves laterally. They pull him a lot with his blocking assignments, which makes me really like him as a guard. I think they'll find out quickly that even though his physical makeup suggests he's a tackle that he'll do best playing at guard.
2. What Smith needs to work on: He needs to be more fleet of foot. His 5.8 forty time has to improve. He also needs to be more explosive out of his stance, so there's improvements to be made there. Then just the basic things all linemen need to work on coming into the collegiate level. Technique things and finishing blocks. But he is skilled and I really like his film.4 comments on this story
3. Chances to contribute immediately: I'll put it at 10 percent, just because of how hard it is for a true freshman to play at offensive line immediately. That, and BYU has some good depth at the position.
4. Cougar comparison: He reminds me of Braden Hansen, with his build and how he plays. Hansen had a lot of good production for BYU after getting off to a bit of a slow start. I think Jacob Smith, once he develops, that his build and physical ability could lead to some good production. He also has some good nasty to him, much like Braden did.
Ben Criddle started at defensive back for BYU in 2006 and 2007. He currently hosts the "Cougar Sports with Ben Criddle" radio program on ESPN960.