Devonta Smith brings elite playmaking skills to Alabama

Charlie Goldsmith
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Devonta Smith was waiting for the ball to be thrown deep down the field.

When Cincinnati La Salle faced Lakota East this season, Smith lined up at safety 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage on a particular play in the middle of the game. Lakota East ran a jet sweep behind the line of scrimmage. Right as Smith saw the play develop, he took off.

After he covered 15 yards in a moment, Smith stopped the Lakota East ball-carrier at the line of scrimmage. 

“That’s definitely going to translate well,” Smith said. “I’ll keep doing what I do and stay consistent during my workouts.”

Smith made those plays at La Salle during his entire high school career. The four-star cornerback committed to Alabama on Wednesday’s national signing day, choosing the Crimson Tide over offers from Ohio State, Michigan and the University of Cincinnati.

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"He's another versatile kid," La Salle coach Pat McLaughlin said. "He played offense, defense and special teams for us. He'll play corner there, and his ceiling is very, very high."

According to 247Sports, Smith is the 25th-best defensive back in the 2021 recruiting class. Smith had previously committed to Ohio State, but on June 29 he flipped to Alabama.

“(I’m bringing) a winning attitude,” Smith said. “Bringing that fire, competition and competing with everyone on the field, no matter who it is.”

La Salle football's Devonta Smith signed his letter of intent to play football for the University of Alabama Dec. 16. With him are, from left, coach Darryl Meadows, coach Mark Koenig (back) and head coach Pat McLaughlin.

The Crimson Tide are getting a defensive back with a knack for making big plays. At La Salle, Smith often played over top of the defense at safety. He helped blanket some of Cincinnati’s best wide receivers, including St. Xavier’s Liam Clifford.

When Clifford faced La Salle, the Penn State commitment had only six catches for 55 yards.

"He’s a very good cover cornerback," said Bill Kurelic of 247Sports. "He’s certainly one of the best in the state of Ohio. He’s going to have a nice future as Alabama. He’s going to a program where it’s really tough to get on the field, but (Smith) is going to eventually get on the field as a starter by his second or third year."

On a La Salle team with four Division 1-bound defensive backs, Smith stood out. Opposing teams rarely threw Smith’s way during his senior year, so he had only two interceptions and 32 tackles this season.

But Smith’s impact was certainly felt on the field.

“His speed and reaction time are unbelievable,” said Anderson coach Evan Dreyer, who lost to La Salle in the 2020 playoffs. “His ability to tackle in the open field is his biggest strength. With his ball skills, he was an explosive playmaker on both sides of the field.”

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Smith’s best attribute is to combine his ability to read routes with his elite athleticism. Against Anderson, Smith came out of nowhere to snag an interception before tiptoeing the sideline as he ran the ball back down the field.

At 6-foot, 185 pounds, Smith already has NFL caliber size and speed. 

On one play in a game against division rival Elder, Smith watched a Panthers player catch a short pass from the opposite side of the field. La Salle didn’t have another defensive player within the vicinity of the Elder player who made the catch, so Smith sprinted across the field to make the tackle and prevent a first down.

“You’re never going to get an explosive play if he’s on the field,” Dreyer said. “Colleges look at how quick you can get from point A to point B. He would always get there and never missed any tackles.”

Smith has always been a highly sought after prospect. After his sophomore year, Smith gad offers from Cincinnati, Kentucky and Minnesota. Then when he had a strong start to his junior season, Smith began hearing from Ohio State. 

He committed to play for the Buckeyes on March 16, but three months later he announced he was headed to the SEC to play for Alabama.

“What made me choose it was the family atmosphere and the relationship I have with the coaches,” Smith said.

Smith is the second-highest ranked defensive back in Alabama’s top-ranked recruiting class, which features six five-star players and 12 four-star players. The Crimson Tide have a history of churning prospects like Smith into NFL players. Alabama has done that with early draft picks like Dre Kirkpatrick, Marlon Humphrey, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Xavier McKinney.

Smith made his commitment official on Wednesday, signing his letter of intent to play for coach Nick Saban. Smith has said expects to focus on cornerback, but few high school football players in the 2021 recruiting class have Smith’s versatility as a defensive back.

For the first time in his career, Smith will be able to focus on using his speed and strength at just one position.

"Once he gets down there, practices and gets with Coach Saban and the defensive staff down there, I think he's going to really excel at cornerback," McLaughlin said.