Kentucky signee Za'Darius Smith a defensive end with basketball roots

broberts@herald-leader.comFebruary 6, 2013 

New Kentucky defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh was an All-Southeastern Conference tackle during his playing days at Auburn.

So when he says UK signee Za'Darius Smith can be an All-SEC talent, he knows what he's talking about.

Still, that's high praise for a guy who's been playing football for only three years.

Smith, a junior-college defensive end from East Mississippi Community College, didn't even step on the football field until his senior year of high school.

Until then, it was all about basketball. But Smith eventually found that there wasn't much room on the court for a 6-foot-5 power forward.

"Coming into my senior year they had me playing traveling ball for AAU," he said. "And the position that I played, for my height, didn't work at all. Those guys were 6-7, 6-8. And I just knew that, 'Man, this is not for me.' "

Smith's high school football coach had been trying to get him to come out for the team for years.

Finally, he decided to accept the offer.

First, he had to get the OK from Mom.

"Me and my mom had that talk where she didn't want me playing," he said. "So I had to beg her like, 'Mom, basketball is not going to work for me. Football. I need to play football.' And look at me now."

Now, he's the No. 2-ranked junior-college defensive end in the country according to ESPN.

Brumbaugh was Smith's position coach last season at East Mississippi, and Smith decided to follow him to Lexington — choosing the Cats over several other SEC schools — without even setting foot on UK's campus.

"He has the heart and passion," Brumbaugh said. "He has every ability to be a great football player. If I was an All-SEC football player, I know he has the ability to do it."

Smith has already been on campus for a few weeks, taking classes, working out and getting prepared for spring practice.

He's also been enjoying the UK basketball team. He goes to the games, sits in the student section and has even been hanging out with some of the players.

Just don't expect to see him lace up the sneakers.

"I'm trying to lay off that court," he said. 'Because there's nothing there for me anymore."

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