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5-star DL James "Kong" Smith is one of the nation's top-rated defensive tackles in the 2023 cycle. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)

James Smith: Nation’s No. 2 DL talks up Alabama, Georgia and the rest of his big recruiting decision

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s the Intel. This rep has the latest with James Smith. He’s listed as the nation’s No. 2 DL and the No. 13 overall prospect for 2023 on the 247Sports Composite ratings.


MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- James Smith. Very common name. Yet a very uncommon frame, game and a real thinking man’s mindset.

That’s a good window into the world of James Smith.

“That’s just how it is,” he said. “Every coach that talks to me just be saying ‘You don’t look like the type to have a name like James Smith’ and it seems like something totally different.

Smith then rattled off a decent impression of a librarian. Or the Hollywood archetypes of a banker or a dentist or a stamp collector.

He is not any of those things.

“James Smith is actually the name of a football player now,” he said.

That it is.

The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Smith currently ranks as the nation’s No. 2 DL and the No. 13 overall recruit for the 247Sports Composite scale for 2023. He is also the nation’s No. 2 DL for On3.com but is seen as the No. 7 overall recruit on that service.

Smith is chasing a dream. He’s been waking up every morning at 4:30 a.m. since he was 12 years old to do “extra” work to excel. He’ll lift in the wee hours, even earlier than he will at one of those favored schools soon, and then do his normal weight training at Carver-Montgomery High School later.

That hard work is his structure.

“I just know I need it to get to where I want to go,” Smith said. “My why I guess to be great is my family. I just know that to me it is my way out. They don’t really depend on me or need me to make it, but they look to me to see what I can do with this opportunity. They know that this is my time. My time to really do something great with my life and I want to make it great. Really and truly great.”

“Nobody in my family really went to college,” he said. “So I will be the first one to do that. I just want to be the first one to do a lot of great things in my family. Do you feel me?”

That means something.

“I can change up the lives of my family,” he said.

When times get hard on the field, he thinks of his family. He’s the fourth of five children, but that leaves his 14-year-old brother. He thinks of his younger brother Jalin.

“What is he going to think,” James Smith said. “If he sees me quit or give up? What will he think? Will he think he can do that? Will he think that is okay for him? I need to make sure he has the right things to look up to.”

Smith will study engineering in college. It is delightful to see him play football and throw iron around in the weight room and then hear that answer.

That’s one of many ways he will surprise any observer.

“I just like being able to put stuff together,” Smith said. “As I little kid, I always liked to be able to put stuff together without directions. Just in my head. I like to figure out where stuff goes. I just know where stuff goes. Automatically.”

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5-star DL James "Kong" Smith is one of the nation's top-rated defensive tackles in the 2023 cycle. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

James Smith: How he will engineer his college decision

Smith is built to be an interior defensive lineman, but he really could play out on the edges. He’s shown those quick-twitch and burst lateral movement skills in a variety of sports. He’s skilled on the basketball court and can sink three-pointers and dunk.

Where does he think he would best line up on Saturdays? 3-tech? Shade nose? 5-tech?

“Everything,” he said.

What is his best spot?

“Most people like to say over the head of the center,” Smith said. “Because I am very quick. I’m fast. I’m more like a whole package. A whole twitchy package. Some people say I would be best over the center, but I like the edge. It is just me and that other person blocking me. I can take that person on and shoot out around the edge. I can play head up and do all of that and do my thing.”

Will he really be a package deal with his talented teammate Qua Russaw in college? Those two released almost identical top 11s. Oklahoma is in that group for Russaw instead of Jackson State for Smith.

Do they really intend to play together? Is that accurate?

“Just about,” he said.

Where did that start? Those two, who now train together on those early mornings, plan to keep it going on Saturdays.

“I don’t know what really happened with that,” Smith said. “It started off in tenth grade when he came to my school. It was like on a rainy day. We stopped practice that day because of the rain. We ran inside.”

That’s when he first saw Russaw. The new Wolverine. He was in his grade.

Russaw wanted No. 22. That was the number he had at the time. It was an interesting dynamic.

“We just started talking,” Smith said. “Russaw was always quiet. He never said anything to me. I don’t know when he started talking to me. I think it was our first playoff game. I just kept messing with me so he had no choice but to talk to me finally. He was always quiet, but he has opened up.”

He calls him “Rosco.” It started with calling him “Ru” for Russaw.”

Russaw will be a big part of that decision. When they visit together, that’s the ideal. When logistics split them up and they are separated on a key visit, they stay in contact with one another.

What will the school that winds up with his recruitment have?

“You know what,” he said. “I really don’t know. It is just what I will be feeling like. I feel like I am just going to wake up. I mean I am going to go visit schools. All the schools. All my schools. But I think that God is going to show me a sign. That’s what I feel like is going to happen.”

“But it will be just a feeling. I will just know it is going to be home.”

Let’s say Russaw has School Z as his first choice. But Smith isn’t high on that school he loves. That’s like No. 8 out of 11 for him. What will happen then?

The school that should sign both will be the one that makes the top three or four for both. They don’t necessarily have to be the top choice for either of these two talented young men.

Could it really be like golf? The two schools closest to the pins for both will sign them both?

“Yeah,” Smith said. “That’s how I see it.

5-star DL James "Big Kong" Smith (left) likes to go on visits with his Carver-Montgomery High School teammate Qua Russaw (right) whenever he can. Those two are a strong possibility to play together at the same school at the college level. (Courtesy photo)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

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The last time James Smith went to Georgia

When he visited UGA earlier this spring, he said he had a good trip. It was on his birthday.

“I liked it,” he said. “I was just real cool with the players. Just had a good time.”

Can he say the Bulldogs have a chance to pry him away from his home state Tide and Tigers and everyone else?

“Yeah, they do,” he said. “They really do.”

Kirby Smart was born in Montgomery. He’s still a well-known figure in that town from recruiting future champions and NFL Draft picks to Tuscaloosa.

A very well-connected source in that state put it this way: If Smart was able to pry away two 5-star talents like Carver’s Russaw and Smith, it will not be cause for alarm.

It will be one of those, oh well, if anybody was going to do it, it was bound to be Kirby.

Smart was very close to pulling 5-star Mack Wilson out of Montgomery for his first Georgia class in 2016. If Smart had a season like the one he had in 2017 when Wilson was coming out, it might have happened.

Wilson just wanted to see progress. He didn’t think Smart could turn around Georgia as quickly as he did.

How have the Bulldogs been recruiting him so far?

“They have been going good,” he said “They have been doing well. They are doing all the right stuff. I feel like I have really good relationships up there. It is nice. I like it. I know a couple of the players.”

That would be Jalen Carter and “Big Bear” Alexander. He played with Alexander at IMG Academy but left after a handful of games with that powerhouse boarding school program.

Smith went to IMG Academy to make sure he knew he had a HEMI underneath the hood.

“I wanted to play against the best but at the same time I was kind of doubting it in my head,” Smith said. “I’m probably just [playing well on the Alabama high school level] because I am down here. I’m going against people. Some good people. But I’m not really going against the best. Then when I went there I was doing the same things. My coach told me before I left ‘James don’t go there expecting anything new or different than what you are doing now’ but I wasn’t really certified with that in my head. I had to find out. I thought it would be harder there. Like the competition. It was just like the same thing to me. Still easy. I was doing the same thing there at that level that I was doing here.”

When asked about his best relationships at Georgia, he said “Kirby” and then added Tray Scott and Glenn Schumann.

“He can relate,” Smith said. “He knows. He knows about football players and how they are crazy. They say some things. Some silly things. Funny. Crazy. Like we are all missing something in the head.”

Another insightful thing that James Smith had to say

Smith picked up the nickname “Kong” or “Big Kong” his freshman year of high school. It is now his handle on his Instagram and Twitter social media accounts.

He picked up that nickname at an Auburn-Georgia game. That’s when former Madhouse training partner Marlon Davidson played at Auburn.

It was at Auburn. That was his first college game. While on the visit, one of his morning training partners asked him his name and “James” just would not do. So he came away with that interaction with the “Kong” nickname.

“They just started calling me that,” he said. “Because the way I am wired and the way my mentality is on the field is that I am a real gorilla.”

“That’s how I have come up. Just people calling me Kong.”

Smith will be an early enrollee at one of those 11 schools. He said that both he and Russaw really don’t like all of this recruiting back-and-forth.

“This is just what we have to do to make the right and most informed decisions,” Smith said. “We like football. We’re really like real football players. We don’t like going and putting on those jerseys and stuff. We really don’t want to do that. The people who call us and recruit us all the time. We really don’t like that. We’re really not that type of people and that type of football players.”

“We’re just real football players. We like to go hit people. We’re not into all that talking and recruiting.”

Then he shared another revelation while twirling the dread in his hair.

“Let me let you in on a little secret,” he said. “If you play this game of football, you have to be violent. You can’t be all happy and ‘How you doing?’ and ‘So nice to meet you or see you’ and all that. You really have something a little bit gone in your head. Everyone is missing at least a little piece of something up in their head to be playing football. You have got to be. It is just a different mindset. To go out there and keep hitting and hitting somebody.”

“You can’t be all that and all nice all the time to play in the trenches. You probably really got to be missing something in the way you are not wired like other people. You have to love that grind and what you put yourself through to be great.”

When he hits somebody hard, that fills up that void inside. When he makes an offensive lineman want to quit, he’s no longer missing something, he said.

“That brings the joy,” he said. “Then that makes a real football player happy.”

5-star DL James "Kong" Smith is one of the nation's top-rated defensive tackles in the 2023 cycle. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation

James Smith shares his Nick Saban story

How does Nick Saban continue to sign top talent from his state and from around the nation? Year after year like clockwork? Smith has his theory on that.

“I would say that Nick Saban is never going to tell you what you want to hear,” he said. “Nick Saban is going to sit down and sit you down and say the same thing over and over. You see it is all about consistency with him. He is going to tell you the exact same thing over and over.”

Smith paints a vivid picture.

“He is going to sit down with his glasses on,” Smith said. “Cross his legs and tell you the same thing. You fire straight out of your hips. Got good initial quickness. Yada lala this and lala that. The same exact thing. I remember word for word everything he is going to tell me. He will say ‘you have an opportunity to come to Alabama’ and it will be the same story about NFL coaches calling.”

He’ll close by asking:

“Is there anything else you need, James?

“Anything else you need to talk about?”

Smith will also say “No sir coach” and that will be that.

“You get up and take that picture and you are gone,” Smith said. “Nick Saban has a sheet with everything on there. It is about consistency. The same thing over and over. So you know what to expect.”

Saban no longer pushes a button at his desk to open and close the door. He gets up now.

“You know he is fixing to talk for real for real when he takes those glasses off,” Smith said. “One time I went to sleep in a meeting.”

Smith thought he was slick and kept that on the DL. He didn’t think Saban saw him.

But of course, he did.

“I got in a meeting and he was like ‘you know if you played for me I would’ve chewed you out in the middle of that thing’ and I was like ‘Oh’ and then he took the glasses off. I hear he never takes the glasses off. When he takes those off, you know he is fixing to say something. It is real. For real for real. He said ‘you know I would have chewed you out but I didn’t’ and that’s the stuff you remember about Coach Saban.”

Those stories are the kind of the things you won’t forget about this James Smith fella either.

It isn't easy to get 5-star DL James "Kong" Smith to smile, but it can happen from time to time once he gets to know you a little bit. (Jeff Sentell /DawgNation)
Jeff Sentell, Dawgnation


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