Al’Quan Smith is one of the best players from the Tampa, FL area in the Class of 2026.
Smith was the MVP for the Progress Village Panthers’ 2016 undefeated season.
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Smith also played for the Plant City Trojans, NZone sports and the Brandon Broncos.
Smith participated in the Battle of the Bay, while also coming in fourth place in
nationals for Plant City in Davenport, FL.
Attending the nationals stoked the competitive spirit of Smith.
“It was a great feeling playing with other teams from other states in the nationals,” Smith said. “It was also a great feeling beating another undefeated team in the Bay Area. When I played in the nationals the teams were so much bigger than me. It made me want to get bigger and faster and stronger so that I could be a better players.”
In 2016, Smith was selected to play in an All-Star showcase for his efforts with the Panthers.
“The All-Star game was my favorite memory because I got to play with a lot of different players from different teams who were the best of the best,” Smith said. “I got to play with a lot of people that I played against in the season.”
Kenneth Sampson has coached Smith for four years now with the Panthers. The coach says despite his lack of size that Smith plays with a big heart.
“On the offensive side, it’s his vision. On the defensive side he can come up and stop the run. His coverage is very good also,” Sampson said. “Al’Quan is a short in stature so it’s kind of hard to see him from a defensive standpoint. So he sees the cut back lanes well. He holds the wide side of the field with speed and coverage skills.”
Smith appreciates the camaraderie that a football shares on the gridiron and relishes when he’s able to produce large hits.
“The players are all like my brothers. We are all one big family,” Smith said. “I love to compete in big games. I especially love to tackle.”
Football is a major component in the maturation development for Smith, who is eager to better himself in every way possible.
“Football has taught me to stay motivated and focused,” Smith said. “It teaches me that every game is not easy. You win some and you lose some. Don't worry about the last game, concentrate on the next game.”
Smith’s versatility as a two-way terror is a boon for the Panthers, Sampson gleefully explains.
“I think his leadership shows in the sense that he will play anywhere you ask him to help the team win,” Sampson said. “It helps us in majors ways because some of his plays are momentum changing runs on offensive and momentum changing tackles on defense.”
Smith is well-regarded as one of the most encouraging and thoughtful teammates on the Panthers.
“I try to keep my teammates motivated, focused, and tell them that they did a good job. If they don't understand a play, I tried to explain it to them,or I'll show them how to do it,” Smith said. “I always tell them that they can do it, and always give them high fives. Whenever they get frustrated I tell them that they can do it and that you just have to believe in yourself.”
Sampson spoke glowingly of Smith’s ability to forecast the best ways to be successful on any given play due to his strong football IQ.
“On defense he’s able to diagnose the play before it develops,” Sampson said. “It’s the same way on offense with the way he’s able to see the holes open up.”
Smith says that if it wasn’t for the push from his coaches, he wouldn’t be the player or person he is today.
“Even though they yell at us, they do it to make us better and I know it's coming from a good place because they believe in me,” Smith said. “They push me to work harder even when I don't feel like doing something.”
Smith came up clutch for the Panthers in their season opener with the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter to break a scoreless tie vs. the rival Tampa Jaguars.
“The first game of the season it was a botched handoff. The quarterback bobble the ball but it landed in Al’Quan hands then he took it right up the middle for a touchdown,” Sampson said.
Smith looks up to Dalvin Cook, the former Florida State running back that was selected in this year's draft to the Minnesota Vikings.
“I like him because he's fast and he's strong,” Smith said.
Much like Cook, Smith has a singular focus whenever he totes the rock: rack up touchdowns. His goal each game is to score at least three.
“My mindset is to read the defense and figure out which way they're going to go so that I can go in the opposite direction,” Smith said. “The goal is to make a touchdown every play.”
Sampson compares the shifty Smith to Devonte Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons.
“Just like him, he can run inside or outside and catch as well,” Sampson said.
Sampson outlines what Smith needs to do next in his development.
“Just getting more reps at each position he plays, working on switching the ball to the right hand as he gets to the sidelines,” Sampson said.
Smith’s dream college to play for is the Alabama Crimson Tide.
“They have a good coaching staff and they've been No. 1 for the last 3-4 years,” Smith said.
Sampson warns to not judge Smith by his size alone or the athlete will sneak up on you due to his work ethic and burning desire.
“I see him being able to play college ball and maybe even in the pros,” Sampson said. “His height might be an issue but his heart is big.”
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