FAU QB Rusty Smith set for recruiter turned rival

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, September 04, 2008

BOCA RATON Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith is motivated to have a good showing Saturday when the Owls host UAB, the only other school to offer him a scholarship when he was recruited out of Jacksonville's Sandalwood High School.

For Smith, it's a chance to show the Blazers, who told him he "wasn't good enough" to play them, just how wrong they were.

What has Smith fired up about this game is that UAB offered him a scholarship, but changed its mind late in the recruiting period his senior year in high school.

"They pulled it because they said they had a commitment from somebody that was better than me," Smith said. "They said I wasn't good enough."

The current coaching staff at the University of Alabama-Birmingham wasn't involved with Smith's recruiting, but that doesn't seem to matter to Smith. "I don't like them," he said when told the current staff under coach Neil Callaway has only been in place for two years.

"If you were in my place, wouldn't you have a chip on your shoulder?"

Before Callaway was hired after coach Watson Brown left the Blazers following the 2006 season, UAB recruited Smith hard.

"I was there to see if I saw any players at Sandalwood," said former UAB Recruiting Coordinator Ross Robinson, who now is in the same position at Samford University. "The first thing that jumped out at me was his pocket presence and how cool he was in the pocket."

The Blazers were in on Smith early when few other schools were interested.

"To say he was overlooked is an understatement," Robinson said. "I could tell right away when I saw him that he was going to be a tremendous college football player, and a lot of schools missed the boat on him."

But UAB pulled its offer after the Blazers received a commitment from Joe Webb who, like Smith, is a redshirt junior and will be starting for the Blazers when FAU plays host to UAB at 4 p.m. Saturday at Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium.

The decision to go with Webb over Smith wasn't easy, Robinson said.

"We knew Rusty was about to commit to us, but it was one of those deals where Joe committed first," Robinson said. "If there wasn't a high profile local kid that was coming here, Rusty probably would have been here."

Smith said he was ready to commit to UAB and other colleges may have backed off recruiting him figuring he would sign with the Blazers. When he was told that he no longer had an offer, he thought it might be too late to attract another college.

"I was disappointed. I told people I was going to UAB and almost didn't have anywhere to go," Smith said.

But the Owls still were interested.

FAU offensive coordinator Gary Nord recruited Smith and always felt he had a chance to land him. When he heard UAB passed on him, Nord was quick to respond.

"I watched him on film and knew right away that he was a kid we wanted, and I was glad to hear no one else was in on him," Nord said. "It just made the job easier when there's not more schools to worry about."

Smith has flourished in FAU's pro-style offensive system, which seems tailor made for a big quarterback (6-foot-5) with a strong arm who can make quick decisions. At UAB, a version of the spread offense is in place.

"I am very happy it worked out and I came here," Smith said. "I'm better off here. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and I'm glad I'm here at FAU."