Posted: Friday April 22, 2005 5:13PM; Updated: Friday April 22, 2005 5:21PM
By Amanda Cherrin, SI.com
The other Alex Smith drags a UCLA tackler last season.
Harry How/Getty Images
He may not be a Heisman nominee, but the tight end from Stanford can hold his own
It's been year of misunderstandings for Stanford's Alex Smith. Because he has the same name as Utah's Heisman-nominated quarterback, he's had medical records switched at the combine, received calls from confused reporters and endured acquaintances congratulating him on college football's top honor. During a recent visit to ESPN.com's The Show, Alex's first question from viewers was, "Have you talked to Peyton Manning, David Carr, or any of the other QB's taken No. 1? And if so, what is the best advice they have given you?" Frustrating, to say the least. Good thing Alex is the kind of guy who doesn't mind explaining, "No, that's not me."
He's also the kind of guy who can afford to laugh it off because like his signal-calling counterpart, Alex may be drafted in the first round of this weekend's NFL draft. An All-America and first-team All-Pac-10 selection, Alex is referred to as "the most prolific receiving tight end in school history" by the red and white-clad Cardinal fans that regularly pack Stanford Stadium to capacity. "Good wasn't good enough," said former Stanford coach Buddy Teevens of Alex, who caught 107 passes for 1,291 yards and eight touchdowns in his college career. "He always pushed the bar higher, and I think his best days are probably still in front of him. He's as good as any tight end in the country in my opinion."
Not bad for a kid who made his football debut in high school. Born and raised in Denver, Colo., Alex was introduced to the game by his father, Ed-who played defensive end for the Broncos for three seasons before a knee injury ended his career in 1976-and kept off the field by his mom, Pia, who thought the sport was too dangerous. "She tried to keep me away from football because [my dad] ended up going down with an injury. It scared my mom to have me playing at a young age," says Alex, who channeled his athletic energy into track, lacrosse, soccer, Tai Kwon Do (he has a black belt) and basketball. "All my friends were playing little league football and I had to stick to the backyard." Ed kept Alex exposed to the sport, thinking he would eventually play, and introduced him to legends like John Elway and Terrell Davis during childhood trips to the team facility and alumni weekends. "I didn't think he had to play football at a young age," says Ed. "I knew at the right time, he would look up and say, 'I want to play.' We waited on him to make that decision."
The right time turned out to be his first day at Mullen High School. The football coach, Mick McCall took one look at Alex during registration and said, "I have a uniform waiting for you." But before accepting the offer, Alex had to get his parents' approval. "I said, 'Might as well,'" recalls Ed. "Pia looked at me and said, 'I hope you know what you're doing because he gets hurt, I'm going to come to you.'" Alex went out for practice that afternoon and played his first game the following weekend. What came out on the field surprised even his father. Says Ed, "I didn't know if he was tough enough to take the hits. You could tell he wasn't scared of contact and it looked like he enjoyed playing. I said to my wife, 'Looks like we've got a football player.'" After moving from receiver to tight end as a junior-the same year that Mullen won the Colorado 5A Championship -- Alex went on to catch 47 passes for 564 yards. The All-American was courted by programs at USC, Miami and Colorado among others, but eventually chose Stanford.
Red-shirted his freshman year, Alex worked his way up from a one-catch debut season to a record-breaking senior year. He considered entering the draft after his junior season, but chose instead to spend one more season in Palo Alto, Calif., bettering his play and draft position. It paid off. Alex led the Cardinal with 52 receptions for 706 yards, catching almost as many passes as his previous three seasons combined. "He worked hard to improve," said Teevens. "He did that in all areas of his game, especially his run blocking and pass receiving. He was such a valuable player we tried to get him as many balls as we could." Alex's teammates also recognized his contribution, naming him team MVP. "Last year was a year that he really separated himself," said Ed. "He went from a kid who was feeling his way around to a kid who really excelled to another level of play."
Now, the question is where will Alex Smith have his next breakout year? Although he insists he'd be happy playing anywhere, Alex admits that the Rocky Mountains still hold some draw. "Playing for the Broncos would be a neat little situation because I have a lot of family and friends there in that area." Whether Denver will take him with their first pick in the second round remains to be seen, but one's thing's for sure: Wherever Alex ends up, he'll make a name for himself.