John Clay: QB Smith the type of recruiting gem Cats need to dig up

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 12, 2012 

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Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith racked up 280 yards in the air against Louisville. The University of Louisville hosted Kentucky,Sunday, Sept. 02, 2012 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. Photo by Jonathan Palmer

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  • Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith talked to the media after Wednesday's practice in preparation for Saturday's game against WKU.

Mike Summers doesn't remember exactly how he got the video on Maxwell Smith or from where it came.

"I get 200 of those videos across my desk a day," said Kentucky's offensive line coach this week.

Summers does remember when he first watched it, however. He sat down with offensive coordinator Randy Sanders and the thing that struck them was the quality of the video.

All the quarterback's throws were broken down by routes, distances, the types of throws. Hitches. Comebacks. Out patterns. Slants.

"It was absolutely the best put-together video I've ever watched on a quarterback," Summers said. "We later found out the guy that helped him with it really knew what he was doing."

Summers and Sanders also noticed something else right away.

"Randy and I were immediately sold on how a good quarterback he was," said Smith.

"It was obvious he had a good arm and he could really throw the football," said Sanders on Tuesday. "He had a lot of arm talent, for lack of a better term. He didn't have to have his feet aligned, but when he did he really, really threw it well."

Thing was both Summers and Sanders thought the quarterback they were watching was a junior. When they realized he was a senior and was uncommitted they hopped into action.

"I immediately got a flight out there (to California) and started making calls," Summers said. "We found out that he had bounced through a couple of different high schools and been through a couple of different offenses and truly was a guy who had fallen through the cracks."

And, in truth, those are the types of players that Kentucky has to get to be successful. The ones that are overlooked for some reason. The ones that have maybe fallen through the cracks.

"At some positions, yes, but I don't think quarterback is one of those, because of the success we've had at quarterback," countered Joker Phillips. "We can go out and compete against a lot of teams with big-time quarterbacks. I was selling that at one time five of our last six quarterbacks had been in NFL camps."

All true, but come on Joker, get with the premise here.

"But, yeah, we did luck into one with him," Phillips said. "He's a guy who wasn't recruited."

Kentucky isn't going to sign the typical five-star player. Not now. Not yet. To compete, it needs to sign a Wesley Woodyard, a Randall Cobb, a Danny Trevathan, a player that because of size or location or pure bad luck goes unnoticed but turns out be a player of note.

And Maxwell Smith looks like he could be one of those diamonds in the rough.

Two games into the 2012 season, the California quarterback is off to a hot start. He's thrown for 634 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. He's completing 73 percent of his passes.

Consider that Tim Couch set the school single-season record by completing 72.3 percent of his passes in 1998.

A state legend as a high school quarterback, Couch was the most heralded recruit in Kentucky football history. Smith was a kid out of California on no one's radar, not even in California.

"It would be hard to guess how many quarterbacks came out of California his senior year," Phillips said. "He was not one of those big-name guys and it's easy for that to happen in California."

"I've been recruiting out there for 20 years," Summers said. "The connections I had out there, I knew I could find out some good background information. So we just tracked it from there."

Smith signed with UK as a grayshirt and was able to get five practices under his belt before the rest of the Cats left for the BBVA Compass Bowl in 2010.

Even back then, however, the coaches were excited enough to start devising an up-tempo, no-huddle attack to fit Smith's strengths. That was put on hold last season when, as a true freshman, Smith didn't get much playing time until late in the year.

This year, his sophomore year, Smith is the established starter.

"He's certainly not where I expect him to be at the end of the season or where I expect him to be in the next year or so," Sanders said. "But the guy is playing really well."

It's not so easy to find the Maxwell Smiths. If you're Kentucky, however, those are the guys you have to find.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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