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June 26, 2006

Smelley embraces high expectations

To paraphrase an old commercial for the United States Army, Chris Smelley has accomplished more before the age of 19 years than most people accomplish in a lifetime.

He's traveled to South America.

He scored a solid 30 on the ACT and carried a perfect 4.0 grade point average during his senior year at American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa, Ala., earning the prestigious Eugene Brittian Award for the fourth consecutive time.

He hit over .400 as a catcher for ACA this past baseball season and led the Patriots to their third straight state championship.

Oh yeah, he's a pretty good quarterback, too. He was selected as the Gatorade Player of the Year in Alabama and ranked as the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com after throwing for a state record 4,120 yards and 59 touchdowns during his senior season.

Smelley officially begins his much-anticipated Gamecock career this week when he reports to Columbia for orientation and the start of the second session of summer school.

If Steve Spurrier's comments on the Gamecock Club tour this spring mean anything, he can't wait for the arrival of his prized pupil, whom he believes has the appropriate physical size, intelligence and arm strength to operate his sophisticated offensive system.

Smelley, though, shrugs off the suggestion he is the perfect quarterback.

"I'm just going to do the same things I've been doing my whole life," Smelley said. "I'm going to work 100 percent at everything and give my all every day on the practice field and off the field as well. I've seen where Coach Spurrier has said some nice things about me. I'm going to go up there and do what I'm expected to do."

Smelley - who started every ACA game at quarterback for five years beginning in the eighth grade and compiled a 59-12 career record - will battle Cade Thompson and Tommy Beecher for the backup quarterback job when fall camp opens in early August.

Smelley's arrival on campus culminates a two-year process that began when Spurrier accepted the USC head coaching position in November, 2004.

Smelley, eager to follow the path blazed by the great Florida quarterbacks of the 1990s, hoped to catch the eye of Spurrier, who has gained a reputation as one of the top quarterback mentors in the nation.

He did.

"Around the time Coach Spurrier came to Carolina, just when I was starting to get recruited, my dad said wouldn't it be neat to play for Coach Spurrier," Smelley said. "I had watched him over the years when he was at Florida. Later, when he came to see me and started recruiting me hard and then offered, it was a dream come true."

In addition to improving his physical conditioning, Smelley has spent considerable time the last few months studying the USC offense Spurrier sent him a DVD containing USC's complete offense breaking down the vast array of formations, plays, and protection schemes.

"I've been taking time and sitting down and going over it and learning the offense," Smelley said. "When I get to Columbia, I won't have to start from scratch. I will already have a sense of what to do."

For a quarterback who called his own plays the last two years of his scholastic career, Smelley quickly realized one thing while watching the film - this wasn't high school.

"It's definitely a lot more complicated," Smelley said. "It's a thicker playbook. But it's something I know I can grasp really well. The key right now is knowing the basics of it and getting grounded with it."

Smelley hopes his thorough preparation will pay dividends when he hits the practice field along with the rest of the Gamecocks in early August.

However, he enters the quarterback race knowing he has considerable ground to make up if he wants to earn a position on the two-deep depth chart.

"I'm not really going to Columbia with any expectations to play," Smelley said. "I'm just going to work as hard as I can and see what happens."

After his high school graduation, Smelley took some time for a quick trip to the beach before starting his workout regime in preparation for what lies ahead.

"I took a little time off, then I started running and working out four or five times a week to get ready for the conditioning I'll be doing once I get to Carolina," Smelley said. "I've been throwing some as well.

"I've been running and I have the program they've been doing up there. I'll be fine. I've been working out every morning with a buddy of mine who is going to play baseball at Ole Miss."

Smelley was one of two quarterbacks from the Yellowhammer State to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic in Mobile on June 3. He threw a touchdown pass in Alabama's 24-3 victory.

"I thought I played all right," Smelley said. "We swapped out every other series, so it was hard to get into any rhythm. I threw one touchdown pass and did a few things pretty well. The thing I liked about it the most was that it helped get me prepared for college football. Having a whole week to practice and be around all those potentially big-time college players helped me prepare for what I'm going to see in a few weeks."

Captain Munnerlyn, another USC signee, made the key play of the game when he scooped up a fumble and raced 30 yards for a touchdown.

"Captain is a great guy," said Smelley, who helped recruit Munnerlyn during USC's biggest recruiting weekend last January. "He's real funny and real laid back. We spent a lot of time talking about South Carolina and getting ready. We've gotten to be really good friends."

Smelley and Munnerlyn are two of four players USC signed from Alabama this year. Offensive lineman Heath Batchelor (Haleyville) and defensive back Darian Stewart (Huntsville) are the others.

Five months later, Smelley's decision to sign with USC still stings for Crimson Tide fans angry that head coach Mike Shula failed to seriously recruit a player of his caliber residing just a few miles from the Alabama campus.

"It's kind of died down now but at the time it was a big deal," Smelley said. "It was in the newspapers all the time and on the radio. But I wouldn't want to be going anywhere else other than South Carolina. The way it turned out was fine with me."

Shula focused on pursuing quarterbacks from outside Alabama and ignored Smelley. When those prospects - which included Tim Tebow from Florida - committed elsewhere, Alabama made a last-gasp attempt to convince Smelley to stay home.

But it was too late.

For Alabama fans, the nightmare scenario is watching Smelley lead USC to victory over the Crimson Tide in the SEC Championship game.

"That's what a lot of people are saying, what if that happened in a few years," Smelley said.

Smelley took time during his senior year at ACA to travel with his classmates to Argentina, a country located in South America below the equator. The group spent most of its time in Buenos Aires, the nation's capital.

"Our principal is real big on travel and he believes students should have a chance to see different cultures," said Smelly, who pointed to the high-quality beef as his favorite part of the trip. "It was fun."

Besides being a fantastic quarterback, Smelley is also an outstanding baseball player. He batted well over .400 and belted 14 homers as ACA won its third consecutive state crown.

He has spoken with Spurrier and Ray Tanner about putting on the uniform for the USC baseball team next spring.

"I'm not sure how hard it will be to do both on the college level," Smelley said. "It's something I'm really looking into. I would like to give it a shot."

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