Donovan Smith looks down and grips the side of right knee, which is heavily wrapped with ice after Saturday's Blue-White Game. When asked if it was anything to be concerned about, he glances back up with a grin.
"Nah, the knee's all right," he says. "I'm just an old man."
Smith, who started the scrimmage as the first-team right tackle, is still a redshirt freshman, and not only is he the youngest starter on the offensive line, but he's also one of the youngest guys on the entire roster this spring.
In the fall, though, he's going to be relied on as a veteran, says his offensive line coach.
Since four of the five starters from last year's starting line have been lost to graduation, new offensive line coach Mac McWhorter said Smith is on pace to take over as the starting right tackle this fall.
Smith is ready for the challenge and proved such with his performance during the spring practice sessions, says McWhorter.
In fact, when spring practice began in late March, Smith was still vying for reps with the second-team offense. In the days leading up to the spring game, however, Smith began separating himself from senior right tackle Mike Farrell and McWhorter says Smith is on pace to be an opening day starter.
"He and Mike Farrell had been battling it out [at right tackle]," McWhorter says, "and [Smith] moved ahead toward the end of spring."
Early playing time was one of Smith's primary goals when he left Owings Mills, Md., last summer, and after a redshirt season, that target is within reach. But as he says, he must continue to devote himself to the weight room and to summer workouts so when preseason practice begins in August, that starting spot is still his.
"I'm not settling right now because anything could happen, so I'm still going to compete to be sure I maintain that spot," the 6-foot-5, 310 pound Smith said. "But right now, it definitely feels good."
Other than Smith, McWhorter said another offensive lineman is making a push for increased playing time this fall. Even though center Matt Stankiewitch is the only returning starter on the offensive line, his backup Ty Howle has specifically impressed the offensive line coach this spring.
Howle, a 6-foot, 298-pound redshirt junior who has been most often used as the kick snapper, has come on strong in spring workouts, said McWhorter.
"Ty has had a really, really good spring," McWhorter said. "I'm really excited about him. He may even end up pushing to get in the top five at some point."