So when Alston Smith, a redshirt freshman at Virginia Tech, first broached the subject of switching over from defense with his father, an NFL Hall of Fame defensive end and all-time Hokie great, the conversation was brief.
“Kind of like a laugh, a chuckle and a no,” the younger Smith said with a hearty laugh. “It was very short. Very, very short.”
But over time, and with a little prodding from offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, the idea of playing on offense became more palatable to the younger Smith. Two weeks ago, he finally felt good about it and decided to make the move, recruiting some help to help sell his dad on the idea.
“Me and coach [Frank] Beamer called my dad and that finally did it,” Alston said.
So far, everyone involved has raved about the switch. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said Smith “wowed” in his first days on the field. Grimes said he plays with an aggression and intelligence that fits an offensive line mindset. Grimes is convinced Smith can contribute this year, perhaps one of the reasons he moved the freshman last week from right guard, where Andrew Miller is entrenched, to left guard.
“I like the position,” Smith said. “I just need to keep on improving my technique and my fundamentals. It’s going to take a little while. Well, not a little while. I just have to devote myself to that. I’ve just got to get out from a couple bad tendencies I have from being a defensive lineman and then I should be good.”
Believe it or not, the younger Smith hasn’t played organized football for that long a period of time. His dad let him pursue any and all interests growing up — cartoons, video games, drawing — never pressuring him into the family business. Smith didn’t start playing football until eighth grade — “Late for being in a household of football,” Alston said.
“It was just great for me growing up without the pressure of having to be, ‘You’re the son of Bruce Smith’ and stuff like that and having to be a football great,” Smith said. “It was just a wonderful growing up situation.”
The younger Smith caught on quickly to football at Cox High in Virginia Beach. He played both sides of the ball his junior year but stuck with just defense his senior season, giving up offense (“I got lazy and didn’t play at all,” he joked.)
He came to Tech in 2012 as a defensive tackle, but found himself buried on the depth chart. With Woody Baron and Nigel Williams emerging as the top backup tackles this season, the 6-foot-3, 290-pound Smith started to take Grimes’ offers of moving to the o-line more seriously.
His dad can give him some lessons. The elder Smith played 15 years for Buffalo and Washington, finishing with an NFL record 200 career sacks. He used to ask for defensive line video from Alston that he could critique, harping on his son’s pad level being too high. Alston said he’ll probably do the same now that he’s on offense.
The younger Smith doesn’t know if he’ll try to block his dad anytime soon. Bruce, who attends every Hokies game and stands on the sidelines, has had 11 knee surgeries, but the 50-year-old is still in good shape. Alston marvels at how he used to rush the passer.
“It was just everything,” Alston said. “He had great, perfect everything. Get-off was ridiculous. And then the way he could turn the corner was amazing. He could get low and then the offensive tackle really wouldn’t have a chance. And his pass rush moves were ridiculous. He would use hand swipe. He has an arsenal of moves. He says he used to set them up like pitchers. Give them a fastball, fastball, changeup. All that good stuff.
“It’s ridiculous. He has probably like 7 or 8 moves. And they’re all perfect. Perfect form. Perfect everything. It was great learning from that.”