ALISO VIEJO, Calif. - He couldn't look at himself, had a tough time around his teammates, didn't want to think about what could have been.
DaMarcus Smith missed his junior season after tearing the anterior-cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee in July during a pick-up basketball game, missing a crucial recruiting period not to mention an important time because his team had high hopes for a state championship run.
"I was just playing around," Smith said Monday at the EA Sports Elite 11. "Just being a kid."
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When reality set in, things got difficult. Recruiting dipped because major schools either got scared away or slowed down the process because coaches wanted to see how Smith recovered. He was sidelined all season, no junior year highlight tape which is so crucial to pick up offers. It was tough on him, his team, everybody.
"It really did kill me for a while," Smith said. "For a long time I really couldn't look at myself in the mirror, I couldn't be around my teammates just knowing I really let them down.
"After I got hurt, we went 4-7 and we had pretty high expectations being state title contenders. I really for a long time couldn't accept that but with the injury it made me a better person and a better player on the football field.
"I made a New Year's resolution so in January that's when I started to try to run and got on the treadmill and tried to work back to it. Now I'm pretty good and everything. I clocked my forty for the first time last month and I ran a 4.7. The fastest I ran before the injury was a 4.49 so I still have a little work to do but it's all coming on good."
Louisville stuck with Smith, a 6-foot-1 dual-threat quarterback from Louisville (Ky.) Seneca, through his injury and through a coaching change and so the Cardinals emerged as a favorite.
Smith, who threw for 3,227 yards with 32 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his sophomore year, also wanted to play for his hometown school so it made sense to verbally commit in December. Meeting first-year coach Charlie Strong, the former defensive coordinator at Florida, sealed it for sure.
"The loyalty that the university showed toward me was important," Smith said. "Before I got hurt, before I was injured going into my junior year, there were a lot of schools that called me a lot, contacted me a lot, wanted me to go to camps and I had a lot of big offers that were waiting to see me play.
"As the season went on I didn't really see any of that happening with the big schools, they didn't really offer me, they kept in touch with me but I could tell their interest level was kind of shaky because of my injury, they probably wanted to see how I came back."
Louisville never faded. And when Strong was hired and talked with Smith, the local prep quarterback was certain he made the right decision by committing. Many programs are attempting to get involved with Smith but he said he's firm in his pledge to Louisville.
"Even before coach Strong got there they were pretty loyal to me and when he got there the next day we talked and I got a good connection with him," Smith said.
"It's home. I always dreamed about being a hometown hero. With the new coaching staff, they have a lot of really good coaches. That really helped me into my decision. Before Strong was there I probably wouldn't have ended up at U of L so that really helped it out."