Hlas column: Missouri's Smith left Cedar Rapids, became a star

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Missouri’s first-team All-Big 12 defensive end grew up in Cedar Rapids.

But don’t think Aldon Smith had some grudge against the Iowa Hawkeyes and didn’t want to play for them. He hadn’t even begun to forge his football reputation when he moved to Raytown, Mo., before his junior year of high school. He was a self-described “secret” to many college recruiters.

“Nobody knew who I was,” Smith said last week after the Tigers practiced in Columbia for the final time before heading to Phoenix for Tuesday night’s Insight Bowl against Iowa. “I was a three-star. Everybody else had five stars.”

Smith is a blue-chipper of a third-year college sophomore today. Though he missed three full games with a fibula fracture in one leg, he still impressed Big 12 coaches enough to be first-team all-league. He had 5.5 quarterback sacks this season after 11.5 last year when he was named the conference’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year.

Oh, what might have been for the Hawkeyes. When Smith’s mother moved to Atlanta after his sophomore year at Cedar Rapids Washington, he chose to move to the Kansas City area where his father lived.

Washington football coach Tony Lombardi got to Wash the year Smith left.

“I met Aldon right away,” Lombardi said. “Here was a 6-foot-5 kid who could run and was an exceptional basketball and football player. I knew he’d be a good Warrior. He was a great kid, a great personality and a good worker. He appealed to every kid in the building. I offered to let him live at my house.”

Lombardi was joking about that last part, sort of.

Smith started over in Raytown, and became quite the football player his senior season with 12 sacks. He wasn’t a total secret to college coaches. He said he heard from Iowa State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. But not Iowa, which Smith doesn’t take the least bit personally.

“I didn’t go to any football camps and didn’t send out film about me,” he said. “It was all word-of-mouth to hear about Aldon.”

Smith cast his lot with Mizzou, which plays a high-pressure style of defense fitting his skills, as evidenced by its 38 sacks this season.

Smith made a mark in the Tigers’ biggest win of the year, a 36-27 home decision over Oklahoma. He had his first career interception and returned it 58 yards to set up a touchdown.

“I can do a little bit of everything,” he said without sounding immodest. “I’m definitely a versatile athlete. I can play all over the field, defensive end, linebacker, whatever. I can pass-rush, run-stop, everything.”

Lombardi talks about Smith as if he had played at Washington.

“That guy’s going to play in The League (the NFL),” said Lombardi. “He’s a difference-maker. It’s kind of a neat story how things worked out so well for Aldon.

“Selfishly, I sure would have loved for him to stay here in Cedar Rapids. I’m sure if he would have stayed here he’d have played for the Iowa Hawkeyes.”

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