JUCO transfer Za’Darius Smith hoping to make an impact

By Tom Hurley

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Christmas came early for UK head coach Mark Stoops on Dec. 19 with a little help from newly appointed defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh.

During his time coaching at Florida State, Stoops spent some time recruiting a 6-foot-6, 254-pound junior college defensive end named Za’Darius Smith.

Texas A&M and Mississippi State were among the schools battling for the East Mississippi Community College player, who was ranked as the No. 10 overall junior college prospect in the nation by ESPN.

The Aggies and Bulldogs were the last two schools being considered by Smith; that is, until Brumbaugh left his role as defensive line coach and strength and conditioning coordinator at East Missipssipi for a place on Stoops’ staff at UK.

Soon after, Smith followed.

“It had a big impact,” Smith said. “I trusted (Brumbaugh). Me coming from junior college with him was a big deal.”

In a two year career at East Mississippi, Smith made 66 tackles, including 18 for a loss, and had 11 sacks. His performance was enough to garner the No. 1 ranking among junior college defensive ends from JCGridiron.com at the end of 2012.

Smith graduated from East Mississippi in November and wasted little time getting to Lexington. He enrolled in classes in January and was able to take part in spring practice and play in the spring game, where he made six tackles.

Not bad for someone who didn’t play a game of football until his senior year at Greenville High School. Before football, basketball was the focus of his sporting life growing up in Greenville, Ala.

“I’m going to leave that in my past,” Smith said. “Football is my main thing now.”

It has not taken long for Smith to impress his peers, including senior defensive tackle Mister Cobble, who is glad to have Smith, with his post-high school football experience on the Cats’ line.

“He brings a lot of energy and a lot of power to the defensive end position,” Cobble said. “He has experience on the field that some of our younger defensive ends don’t have … he can make our young guys better.”

Since arriving on campus, Smith has spent many hours in Nutter Training Facility making sure his body is ready for the coming season. He now bench presses 385 pounds and squats 505 pounds, which is “way more” than he had lifted previously.

The junior did spend two weeks taking it easy, however, after suffering a high-ankle sprain on his left ankle, keeping him out of training camp. Stoops said Smith looked good when he returned to practice on Aug. 23, adding, “he won’t be behind” the rest of the team in terms of preparation.

Saturday against WKU, Smith will have his chance to “be a leader on the D-line.”