GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Devonta Smith's preparation for the University of Alabama football program started with strenuous Christmas break workouts last year at La Salle High School.
Nearly a year later, the Alabama freshman defensive back has been recognized for his play on special teams this season for top-ranked Alabama.
The 2021 La Salle graduate is preparing for the College Football Playoff semifinal Dec. 31 when the Crimson Tide (12-1) play the University of Cincinnati (13-0) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
"He's just an absolute special kid that is making a lot of people proud and also proven a lot of doubters wrong," La Salle defensive backs coach Mike Koenig said.
Smith didn't mind the challenge of working out in 20-degree weather at Lancer Stadium last year with some of his teammates during rigorous offseason training.
"He's dedicated," Koenig said. "He will be there on time. It's fun to talk about 'Tay' when you know that he's just an absolute unbelievable human being. A great teammate and he's going to put in the maximum effort to be the best player that he can be."
Whether Smith and his teammates were pushing sleds, lifting plates over their heads or elevating their effort in the weight room, Smith wanted to be prepare for life at Alabama.
"Tay went from almost benching 300 when we started in December to where he's close to I think 345 now," Koenig said. "He's power cleaning over 300. Just numbers that we thought we would never see. It's just a testament to what he does and the time and the effort that he puts in."
This season, Smith was selected as one of Alabama's special teams players of the week by the coaching staff after he recorded his first career tackle in a 59-3 win over New Mexico State Nov. 13.
He also made a special teams tackle in the Crimson Tide's 24-22 win in four overtimes at Auburn Nov. 27. He has appeared in multiple other games.
University of Alabama freshmen football players are not permitted to conduct media interviews, according to the program policy.
However, those who know Smith at La Salle say he has thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the Crimson Tide.
"He's having a great experience down there," La Salle head coach Pat McLaughlin said."He's getting in on some special teams but most important he likes the culture. He likes being around coach (Nick) Saban, the other coaches and the players. He's excited to play against UC and some of his buddies in the semifinal game."
Smith will recognize plenty of familiar La Salle graduates on the UC roster when the two teams go head-to-head in the College Football Playoff.
The Bearcats include former La Salle players include linebacker Brody Ingle, offensive lineman Ben Blevins, tight end Josh Whyle and cornerback Iesa Jarmon. Smith worked with Jarmon on some of those offseason workouts at La Salle in 2020.
McLaughlin and Koenig said it's a special time knowing so many La Salle graduates have had success this season. The coaches are simply rooting for the best for the La Salle graduates in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic Dec. 31.
Smith's football skills along with his affable personality and smile made a significant impression during his time at La Salle and his former coaches want to see his success continue.
"He's a good kid," McLaughlin said. "He's working hard. Hopefully he gets some snaps in the national championship or the semifinal game."
Whether it's waking up at 6 a.m., for meetings or turning off his phone for an extended amount of time to learn the playbook, Smith is willing to make the necessary sacrifices to learn as a freshman, Koenig said.
"Tay is one of those dudes that I still FaceTime just to check in, see how he's doing," Koenig said. "This year he's really done a lot of better than I thought he was going to. Going down to Bama, three-star, four-star recruit competing against the five stars. Tay has something that a lot of those guys want to have and that's just the absolute desire and work ethic that is through the charts."