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WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2007
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Old UT Vol lends hand to Tide's Gilberry

By Josh Cooper
jcooper@decaturdaily.com · 340-2460

TUSCALOOSA — In the searing mid-August heat, Chuck Smith visited the Alabama's Thomas-Drew practice facility in Tuscaloosa.

The former Tennessee and NFL defensive end scoured the field in search of Wallace Gilberry, a senior who would would turn into Smith's pupil.

Smith saw Gilberry's No. 92 jersey, walked up to him and said, "Hey, man, nice to meet you. I'm Chuck Smith."

With a chuckle, Gilberry responded, "Chuck Smith? You look like me when I was 13-years old."

Smith looked down at his body, and realized he was no longer the 255-pounder who brought down enough quarterbacks in his nine-year NFL career to earn All-Pro honors.

"It was just funny, and it caught me off guard," said Smith, who played with the Falcons and the Panthers. "It got me thinking ... one day when you retire and have three kids, you'll understand why I am 225 pounds."

From that moment on, a relationship was born between Smith, Gilberry and the Crimson Tide football family. It’s one that will be tested this weekend when the Vols (4-2, 2-1 SEC) visit Alabama (5-2, 3-1) on Saturday.

A former All-SEC selection at Tennessee, Smith was a second-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 1992 draft.

In his pro career, he had 10 or more sacks three times, including 11 in 1994, 12 in 1997 and 10 in 1999.

Recently, Smith found his calling — he tutors defensive lineman in the art of the pass rush.

His students include Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora. Smith started his own company, Defensive Line Inc. for this purpose.

He has helped Gilberry, who has four sacks in the last two games. On Saturday, Gilberry will face a Tennessee offensive line that has allowed only two sacks, which leads the NCAA’s Football BowlDivision.

“With all the zone blitzing, coaches don’t have time to teach guys how to rush the passer,” Smith said. “There has been a disconnect somewhere down the line, and I’m putting that connect back together.”

Before the 2007 season, first-year coach Nick Saban invited Smith to give the Crimson Tide team a motivational talk and help its defensive lineman in getting to the quarterback.

Smith spent three days in Tuscaloosa and developed a bond with Gilberry, fellow defensive end Bobby Greenwood and cornerback Simeon Castille.

Gilberry and Smith talk multiple times a week. He sends Gilberry text messages filled with words of encouragement, and Gilberry takes those thoughts to the practice field.

On Monday, Smith told Gilberry to “go out and explode.”

“He is definitely a Tennessee Volunteer. He’ll tell you that to heart,” Gilberry said. “But he is a definite football man, also. He respects someone like me who wants to learn.”

Smith said he will be at Saturday’s game, wearing his Tennessee orange and rooting for the Vols. He and Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer are friends, and he knows a few players on the Vols’ roster. But the bond he developed with the Crimson Tide players during his three days humanized the rivalry for Smith.

When he was at Tennessee, Smith “disliked Alabama” because “when I was there, they kicked our butt.” After watching the Alabama football program in action, he knows the players and has a different perspective.

“Obviously, my loyalties are with Tennessee, but man, I can’t lie in my heart. Wallace and those guys, we had a special time together,” Smith said. “I want them to turn it up another notch. I’m kind of hoping it’s a good football game.

“I hope Tennessee wins the game, but no question I hope Wallace and those defensive guys play a heck of a game.

Tennessee at Alabama

Saturday
11:30 a.m.
WZDX-54

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