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August 19, 2009

OLB Already Wreaking Havoc

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The name 'beast' has been thrown around quite a few times this fall. There's a few on offense, but nearly every time the defense makes a play, it's in reference to one name in particular.

Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Quanterus Smith could very well go by the nickname, 'beast.' At 6-foot-5 and 224 pounds, he's been giving every offensive blocker fits.

"The kid is an unbelievable raw talent," outside linebackers coach Kurt Barber said. "I mean, the kid has all the intangibles that you look for in a big-time outside linebacker, defensive end. He is a very, very good pass rusher and just has a natural knack for pass rushing. He still has a lot to learn as far as the schemes and our techniques and our scheme, but what he does best, he's a phenomenal pass rusher."

Smith, who sat out last season as a prop 48, used the time away from football to better himself mentally and physically. Now eligible, he's still doing the extra work to get even better.

"For my arm-length advantage, I always try to come out here and work a little extra with the little dummies and stuff," he said. "I can see a lot of improvement from not playing football in a year and a half to now. I can see the improvement from me coming out and doing extra."

Barber, who joined the staff in June, was once a stud linebacker himself. He was Mr. Kentucky Football in 1987, before lettering two years at USC and playing six years in the NFL.

"You've got some great attitudes, with the kind of program that Coach (David) Elson's running," Barber said. "It's really high on discipline and paying attention to detail. These kids are locked in and they're focused, so it's been very easy."

Barber's background has also helped in connecting and getting his points across to his players.

"He's been there and he's seen it all," junior linebacker Mike Gothard said. "You can tell that he definitely has a background, people respect him a lot. He knows what he's talking about, so we pay attention."

Along with Smith, Gothard has arguably stood out as well. He's currently listed as one of the starters and has solidified that thus far.

"He's probably played the best overall of any of our outside linebackers," Elson said. "I think he kinda gets overshadowed just a little bit just because, from a size standpoint, he's not a very tall guy, but he's 225 pounds and is a really good pass rusher for us, very smart, intelligent, good instincts. Mike has just brought us some solid experience. He's the starter at Sam right now and it's gonna be hard for somebody to get that away from him."

But Gothard isn't quite there yet. He's been battling a hyperextended left elbow the past few days, though he's wrapped it up and still practiced.

"I've been good, all except for my elbow, but I feel good, fresh other than that," Gothard said. "I feel like I know the defense better than I ever have in the past. It just kinda plays out on the field."

The Toppers have other capable, albeit young talent, starting with junior Darius Baughman and Marquise Burns. True freshman Chuck Franks has also made a strong case to play right away.

But the success of the group might hinge on how quick Smith can become even more of a beast with his talent. Smith has already showed a capability that is scary to any offense.

"He's got a lot to learn, just from an assignment standpoint, but he's one of the hardest workers we've got on this team," Elson said. "He's earned the respect of his teammates by the way he worked this summer. The sky's the limit for his future. He really has got a chance to be something special."


Check Out InsideHilltopperSports.com's insider's only look at today's practices, including injury reports.



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