Isaac Smith has a lot on his mind. The four-star college football recruit is focused on bringing a state championship to Itawamba Agricultural after finishing 11-2 and advancing to the MHSAA Class 4A quarterfinals last season.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Smith is also fielding calls from coaches across the SEC. Ole Miss — where his father, Reggie Smith, played in the 1990s — is recruiting Isaac heavily. Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia and others are in close pursuit.
Isaac is weighing his future at a perennial contender against the allure of receiving a degree from an institution like Vanderbilt.
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It’s a lot for him to balance — that’s why an escape to the wilderness with Itawamba Agricultural coach Clint Hoots and his sons is so freeing. Deer hunting has been an escape for Isaac since he was 14 years old.
“Sitting in the stand is so peaceful and quiet,” Smith said. “You can hear the birds chirping. I love it because there aren’t many opportunities where I get time to myself to just think. Where I know I can’t be on my phone. When I’m in the woods — middle of nowhere —no one can text me. I’m forced to just think and be by myself.”
Isaac, the No. 1 safety in the state, is No. 3 in the Clarion Ledger’s 2022 Dandy Dozen, a collection of the top college football prospects in Mississippi as picked by the newspaper. He’s the No. 11 safety in the country and the No. 174 recruit nationally, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Isaac had 92 tackles, eight interceptions, four forced fumbles, two sacks and three defensive TDs in 13 games and was a Clarion Ledger first-team all-state selection a year ago.
Hoots knows Isaac’s ball skills and ability to support in the running game speak for themselves. However, his composure off the field sets him apart.
“I’ve been coaching for 20 years and he’s different from anybody I’ve ever had,” Hoots said. “The way that he prepares himself is the way he is. He’s very detail oriented.
“If he’s not getting something in the classroom he’s going back up and trying to figure it out. (He has) that drive and wants to be good at everything you can possibly be good at.”
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Isaac’s detail oriented nature is one reason why he’s taken his time to commit. It’s also the reason why coaches have fallen in love with his instincts and ability to be in the right position to make plays, according to Isaac. He isn’t concerned with a program’s name or brand. Isaac wants a unique experience and academics plays a large role in that.
“I think if you cheat yourself and just go to a school because of what they’re known for doing, you’re missing out on the good things that you could see,” Smith said. “For instance, people might not want me to go to Vanderbilt. But I like Vanderbilt and I’m going to consider them. That’s a great academic school and they’re building new things there. I feel like you’ve got to weigh everything out to be able to know your true options.”
The Commodores are joined by Texas A&M, Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Florida and Arkansas in peaking Isaac’s interest. However, the senior doesn’t have a list of top schools heading into the upcoming season. Gameday visits during the season will play a large role in his ultimate decision.
Meanwhile, Isaac is determined to become the best student-athlete wherever he chooses to continue his athletic career.
“Not everybody gets the opportunity that I have,” Smith said. “At my school, in my hometown, there are a lot of little kids that look up to me. I feel like if I don’t go out, grind every day, and push myself to be the best I can be, I’m going to let them down. Off the field, it’s my family and their support. They push me to be the best person I can be.”