Irv Smith still watches his dad’s old game film and will often ask his father about how we would approach and execute certain plays back when he was a player.
Irv Smith Sr. starred at Notre Dame and is one of just 11 tight ends since 1993 to be selected in the top-20 of the NFL draft. He was a complete tight end, an athletic player capable of contributing both as a pass-catcher and as a blocker in the running game. That’s what his son is now evolving into at Alabama.
Smith has learned from his father, learned last year from another top-20 pick at tight end in O.J. Howard and is now in line for a breakout sophomore season with the Crimson Tide.
“I remember from the first day I saw O.J. on campus, everything he did he did as if he was a professional already, and I think little Irv has watched O.J. and tried to model himself after that as a guy who works like a pro every single day in the classroom, on the field, in the complex, in meetings and going and watching extra film,” Smith Sr. said. “The most important thing I believe Irv is doing is he goes out every day – whether it’s practice, the weight room, whatever it is – and works to try and be the best player he can be. Once O.J. left, the coaching staff had a meeting with the tight ends and said, ‘Who’s going to step up now to be the guys we can count on?’ I think that’s the bell Irv decided to answer was I want to be one of those guys that’s going to step up and show you that I’m ready.”
Smith will enter fall camp with a good chance of winning Howard’s vacated spot as Alabama’s starting tight end.
The Louisiana native broke out during the spring, has been a standout during the Tide’s summer workouts and is likely Alabama’s most complete and well-rounded tight end.
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Smith ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds during Alabama’s spring testing and also bench-pressed 425 pounds. That was tied for the best bench press on the team among non-linemen.
Smith, who doesn’t turn 19 until August, was one of three winners of Alabama’s spring “I Like to Practice” award.
“He seems very focused and excited about his opportunity,” said Mark Bonis, Smith’s high school coach. “He feels he has a great chance and a great opportunity in front of him and feels like he’s aligning himself to give himself a great opportunity for the season.”
Smith caught a touchdown during Alabama’s first spring scrimmage, a leaping grab in between three members of the Tide’s second-team secondary. He later had three catches for 37 yards during Alabama’s spring game while working with the Tide’s second-team offense, including a 34-yard catch-and-run on a pass from freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
“A lot of people haven’t heard much about him yet just because he didn’t play a whole lot last year, but this guy has a ton of talent,” fellow tight end Hale Hentges said during the spring. “I’m sure you guys are going to be seeing him coming up in the coming season.”
One of Irv Smith Sr.’s top plays came as a junior at Notre Dame in 1991 during a win over Indiana.
He caught a long pass at the 30-yard line and was simultaneously hit by two defensive backs. He ran over the one in front of him and bulled ahead with the other hanging on from behind, dragging him 20 yards into the end zone.
Those are the types of plays Smith sees when he watches his father’s old film.
Smith Sr. was a starter for seven seasons in the NFL, catching 183 passes for 1,788 yards and 15 touchdowns while playing for the New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns. But dad, who played both football and baseball at Notre Dame, tells son all the time, “Irv, you’re going to be 10 times the player I was.”
“I always tell him that there’s a lot of things you can do because of God-given talent, but he’s stronger than I ever was,” said Smith Sr., who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds at the 1993 NFL scouting combine. “I was a baseball player playing football. He’s a football player playing football. I was always worried about getting too strong because I didn’t want to be too big up top to be able to hit that fastball. But he’s all in, and he’s really blossomed. Every time I talk to him, he just keeps telling me ‘Dad, I’m out there working hard,’ and I can feel the excitement through the conversations that we have that he feels he’s doing well and he’s working really hard. And then when I saw the coaches and everyone at the spring game, the coaches all reinforced the same thing.”