The center position at Louisville has set a standard of excellence. Whether it’s been Eric Wood or Mario Benavides the Center position has enjoyed 8 years of unparalleled security. Now a new prodigy has emerged at that position in Jake Smith.
There is no more Alex Kupper for Louisville. There is no more Mario Benavides for Louisville. But what’s left is pretty good. Jake Smith is poised to have a seamless transition and has prerequisites to do so. Two days into Fall Camp and Smith has already helped the Louisville Football team.
“Moving Jake [Smith] to center was huge for us. Because he’s captained all the line calls, he’s had that experience. He’s the guy that everybody listens to,” Offensive Coordinator Shawn Watson noted at Media Day. “When we placed him there in the Spring – as it was our plan- he calmed the whole team down.”
Jake Smith has certainly received teaching from the proper mentor to be the new anchor of the offensive line. For four years Mario Benavides, one of Smith’s close friends, held down that spot. Benavides, despite a myriad injuries, only missed four games throughout his career at Louisville. He was constantly praised for his leadership skills, and his high football IQ. Was the mainstay of Louisville’s offensive line able to teach Smith before his departure?
“Jake [Smith] already has a good football mind. It’s more about the approach. Having a relationship with me on and off the field, he was able to pick up habits,” noted Former Louisville Center Mario Benavides in a text to TheCrunchZone.com. “[I gave him] simple tips and suggestions like how to deal with a balanced stance. Seems simple enough, but going from having your hand in the dirt, to having a ball in your hand, is a huge difference. But overall, Jake is a tremendous football player. I hope all that he took from me was at center you have to be tough. You may not be praised often, you may take a lot of the blame but others rely on you, and you have to play regardless of injury. Most of the coaching will come from his offensive line coach, who is a great one.”
Although the position is new for Jake Smith, he’s quickly adapted and Benavides was a big reason for that. Long before he left Louisville, he was teaching things to Smith.
“Before he left, he was giving me advice on how to play the positions. The guards work in conjunction with the center, so he really had to explain what he does before I did it,” Smith recalled. “The center position is intriguing. It’s not too much different though. The only thing about it, is you have your head between your legs, and you have one hand on the ground. You also only have one hand to start; otherwise everything is the same.”
With 25 career starts at the Guard position, Smith is now the veteran leader of the offensive line. Filling the ‘communication’ void left by vocal leader LG Alex Kupper, has been rather easy for the 312 pound RS Junior.
“He’s always been a very passionate player, he’s always played with his convictions. He’s been a natural born leader,” Watson noted. “Number 1, he loves the game. Number 2, he’s a great competitor. Because of those things, he’s been put that position. With the knowledge he has, it’s easy, it’s kind of natural to him.”
The offensive line is often referred to as the most technical place on the football field. To play it, you must possess a certain skill-set, but you must have a high football IQ as well. That high football IQ is something that Smith is constantly praised for by his peers. The reason? Smith says it’s simple:
“Mentally I’ve tried to mold my game after [Alex] Kupper’s the last two years,” Smith stated. “I’d like to think we had a pretty intelligent offensive line the past two years.”
Given the title of the center on a football team, often leads to a moniker of ‘leader’ to follow. Is Jake Smith ready for that role?
“I think I’ve embraced it,” Smith explained. “This is my fourth year, I’ve seen how everything goes. There’s a certain way we do things, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things. I’d like to think I can lead by example, by kicking somebody in the butt.”
There is little doubt within the University of Louisville Football program that Smith will succeed at the center spot. You can add his former teammate into the long list of believers of his capabilities.
“From what I hear, he is doing great,” said Benavides. “Takes awhile to get adjusted to a new position. He already knew the calls from last year. He gets snapping down and the footwork, and he’ll be fine.”
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