One day the kid who did the long snapping on Anthony Smith's fifth-grade football team was late to practice. So Smith decided to try his hand at it. Eight years later, the 6-foot-1, 186-pound defensive back from Randolph, N.J., was the long snapper for Valley Forge Military Academy's team.
Smith will join a Penn State secondary with little proven depth.
When Valley Forge's starting quarterback broke his arm on the first series of the team's first game this past fall, Smith stepped in and tried his hand at that, too.
One of five Penn State commitments who will begin classes this week, Smith has shown an ability to fill in where he's needed, which makes him a desirable commodity on a team that has both a young secondary and will need able bodies on special teams this coming season.
"He's a kid that's doing everything you ask him to do," said Valley Forge coach Josh Sands. "And he does everything the first time you ask him. He's ready to go all the time."
Smith earned second-team All-West Jersey honors during his final season at Pope John XXIII in 2011, but he only received interest from a handful of CAA schools and his only scholarship offers were of the Division II variety.
"I wanted to play at a higher level," he said.
Smith also wanted to bolster his academic resume, so he enrolled at Valley Forge. The postgraduate year there helped him pick up about 20-30 more points in the math section of the SAT. On the field, he was able to add some size and strength and show what he could do against some stiff competition, including his performance in a game against Fork Union and future Penn State teammate Christian Hackenberg. Fork Union won the game 33-0 but Hackenberg threw two picks and very few passes to Smith's side of the field.
"I don't think they threw the ball toward him the entire day," Sands said.
Still, the offers, including one from UMass, came slowly. When Penn State extended one in the first week of December during his official visit, Smith jumped at the chance.
"It was pretty much an easy decision," he said. "The school is everything I've been looking for in a school."
Smith will join a Penn State secondary that will field seven scholarship players in their first or second year with the program this fall. The departures of Stephon Morris and Jacob Fagnano and the limited number of returning players with experience could open the door for a couple of those players -- possibly even Smith and fellow early enrollee Jordan Smith -- to get some early playing time.
"That's really exciting, but coach (Bill) O'Brien stressed to me that's a spot that has to be worked for," Smith said. " It's not just going to be given."
Smith spent some of the winter break hanging out with some of his new teammates and is eager to get started. Growing up in New Jersey, Smith was familiar with the program he is about to join but not enamored.
"Most of my friends were really big Penn State fans," he said. "I followed them a little bit. As in religiously following them, I wasn't a rabid Penn State fan."
"Now I wish I was," he added.
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