‘Bama’s Smith has 2 separate personalities

Published 8:46 am Sunday, August 17, 2008

TUSCALOOSA – Andre Smith is a soft-spoken, bespectacled Christian with an easy smile. In other words, the kind of guy who doesn’t seem all that intimidating for a 6-foot-5, 335-pound behemoth.

Only opposing defensive linemen are exposed to the other, not-so-nice side of Alabama’s left tackle.

“You will never see the Andre like he is on the field. I’m like the meanest guy you’ll ever meet on the field,” Smith said. “That’s the mentality I have. My dad always told me, ‘Be the nicest guy when you’re off the field but when you’re on the field transform to the meanest guy on the field.'”

It seems to be working. The junior has started every game at left tackle for the Crimson Tide during his career and won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the Southeastern Conference’s top blocker last season.

The preseason Playboy All-American’s teammates vouch for his personality transformation from mild-mannered guy to Angry Andre when he takes the field.

“He wouldn’t be Andre Smith if that wasn’t the way he is,” center Antoine Caldwell said. “That’s one of the great things about him, that he does know how to flip that switch. Off the field he’s laid-back, cool, he’s relaxed. When he’s on the field, he’s going to dominate, he’s going to work. That’s why he’s in the position he’s in now.”

That position is as one of the SEC’s best offensive linemen and a likely first-round NFL pick whenever he decides to enter the draft.

Smith dismisses such talk and said he tells friends and family members not to discuss the NFL around him. How does he manage to keep that situation from being a distraction? He quotes his other parent this time by way of explanation.

“Staying humble. Humility is power, my mom always told me that growing up,” Smith said. “You can’t put the trailer in front of the horse. You’ve got to take it one game, one practice at a time.

“Life’s full of decisions. Right now, I’m just going to continue to work hard, try to keep my energy level up in the fourth quarter and be able to sustain the play.”

Sustaining that fourth quarter stamina has been the reason coaches pushed him to shed weight before his sophomore season and to keep it off, which he has.

“We continue to do those things, not because it’s going to make him a better player but because it’s going to help him sustain his performance as a better player for longer in the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “If you want to be a dominant player, I think that’s a critical factor in being able to do that.”

Smith arrived in Tuscaloosa regarded by some as the nation’s top offensive line prospect and was the most heralded signee of Mike Shula’s coaching tenure. He instantly moved into the starting job protecting the quarterback’s blind side.

“He’s a rare talent. He’s got rare ability, he’s got rare everything,” Caldwell said.

Barring injuries, quarterback John Parker Wilson will likely have Smith protecting him at left tackle for his entire three-year turn as starter.

That, he said, gives him one less thing to worry about. Wilson said it allows him to focus on the coverage instead of wondering if a defensive end is barreling toward him from behind.

“It’s pretty nice, isn’t it?” he said, smiling. “Not many people have that opportunity. He’s going to end up with all these awards and everything. I’m just lucky to have somebody like him.”