Donovan Smith was the picture of calm when he announced his intentions to sign with Penn State University during the U.S. Army All-American game before a national TV audience. As the Owings Mills High football standout stood in front of some of his classmates and teachers Wednesday afternoon in the school’s audiotorium, Smith was surprisingly nervous.
“I don’t know what it is,” laughed Smith. “I guess it was me giving my life to Coach [Joe] Paterno, the coaching staff and players at State College.”
Smith made it official, signing a national letter of intent to play for the Nittany Lions and their legendary coach who’s slated to return to the sidelines for a 46th season in the fall. Smith, a 6-foot-6, 290-pound offensive linemen gain some legendary status, becoming the first Division I football player from the Baltimore County school.
“His junior and senior year, he really came on,” said Eagles coach Steve Lurz. “He caught a lot of people by surprise his junior year because he was an unknown.”
Smith started piquing interest from college recruiters after a strong showing at the U.S. Army Combine last January. After nearly two dozen scholarship offers, Smith settled on Penn State over North Carolina State and UCLA.
“At the Blue and White game, I figured I was 85-90 percent with Penn State, and the only school that would tear me away was UCLA,” said Smith. “When I went out there [official visit to UCLA], I loved it, but I love PSU more.”
The area’s top line prospect, Smith is rated No. 104 in the final list of Rivals.com’s Top 250 national prospects. He’s rated No. 9 nationally among offensive linemen.
A consensus All-State pick this past season, Smith collected 15 sacks and 143 tackles over the past two seasons. He was a big reason Owings Mills, once mired in a 53-game losing streak, won seven games over the last two seasons.
In 2008, Smith moved to Owings Mills with his sister Ebony to escape the rough surroundings around their mother’s home in Amityville, New York. Donovan’s uncle, George Smith, played a major role in his development.
“I’ve grown up not knowing my father, so he’s been my father figure,” said Smith, who didn’t play his sophomore season because of injury. “He basically did it all, taking me to all the combines and camps that definitely got me out there. He’s been a great influence.”