Smith, a 6-4, 306-pound redshirt junior from Fort Thomas, Ky., gave head coach Phillip Fulmer his final decision on Tuesday, insisting that there is no chance he’ll change his mind.
Smith’s departure will be a blow to Tennessee’s chances of rebounding from its 5-6 debacle of 2005. He started 24 consecutive games at either guard or center the past two seasons and was probably the Vols’ most dependable blocker in 2005.
“If I can't be 110 percent motivated to do something, then I'm cheating everybody,” Smith told The Tennessean. “And I wouldn't have been 110 percent motivated if I had come back to Tennessee next season."
Fulmer, offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, offensive line coach Greg Adkins and running backs coach Trooper Taylor all met with Smith last Thursday in Fort Thomas but couldn’t change his mind. Nor could the fact Smith projects to be a fourth- to fifth-round pick, based on information provided by the NFL Draft advisory committee.
"No matter where I'm drafted, people will criticize me," Smith told The Tennessean. "But I've always done what my heart has told me to do. I gave everything I had for four years to Tennessee and tried to lead by example. Now I want to take a shot at my personal goals."
Two more Vol juniors, offensive tackle Arron Sears and defensive tackle Justin Harrell, also are considering bypassing their final year of college eligibility in favor of the Draft. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the Draft is Jan. 15.
After meeting with Vol coaches last week, Smith spent several days reconsidering his decision. In the end, though, he stuck with his original verdict ... to do what's best for Rob Smith.
"I found myself trying to convince myself to come back," Smith told The Tennessean. "It had to be what I wanted. I would never short Tennessee or the fans. I love this place too much to ever feel like I wasn't giving 110 percent."