COLUMBIA — Kembrya Smith was at work when her son Aldon’s kindergarten teacher called.
“She said that she needed to talk about something that happened with Aldon,” Kembrya Smith said.
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The workday was almost over, so Kembrya Smith grabbed her stuff and headed for school. She was confused. Her son had never been in trouble before.
It was field day for the kindergartners. The class had been running around playing games outside. As the teacher began to explain what happened, Kembrya Smith noticed tears welling in her eyes.
“The teacher told me they were doing some sort of swirly twirly thing,” Kembrya Smith said. “He swung around and accidentally knocked into a boy and the boy’s lip started bleeding.”
That’s when the waterworks began. The little boy cried because his lip was bleeding. Aldon Smith cried because he didn’t mean to hurt the little boy. And the teacher cried because she saw how upset Aldon Smith was about what he had done.
“She was crying because she felt so bad that he felt terrible. This little boy thought he did it on purpose, but Aldon was just having fun,” Kembrya Smith said. “At that age he didn’t even know how big he was. He didn’t realize his strength and his height. He just thought he was an average kid.”
Aldon Smith has never been average.
“When your kid is not even in the adolescent stage, they tell you what percentile you’re in, he was in the 95th percentile,” Kembrya Smith said. “He looked like Kareem Abdul Jabbar (7 feet, 2 inches tall) next to a bunch of Chris Paul’s (6 feet tall) out there.”
While his head soared above those of all his classmates, Aldon Smith never wanted to stand out.
“In middle school, being taller, the teachers had higher expectations for him,” Kembrya Smith said. “They’d look at him and say, ‘We expect differently of you.’ He’d be so sad and tell me ‘I don’t want to be the leader, I want to be me.’ That’s a frustrating thing to deal with as a parent."
It was frustrating for Aldon Smith, too.
“I never really liked the whole leadership thing,” he said. “I wasn’t ready for it at the time. I wanted to just chill and be the guy that’s chilling, not really the guy who had the responsibility of being the leader.”
While Aldon Smith's teachers had higher expectations for him in the classroom, he set his own standards for sports.
“When his team would lose, the whole house was quiet,” Kembrya Smith said. “He took it personally. It was almost like he lost a fight. It was like he lost something that was dear to him. It was like somebody came in and robbed him and took his Playstation 2 away.”
Kembrya Smith worried about her son taking games so seriously at such a young age.
“We used to try to tell him ‘Good game, you did your best,’ but if they lost, none of that mattered,” Kembrya Smith said. “He would be real angry, tears would well up in his eyes, and sometimes he would cry.”
It was when he learned to take constructive criticism that Kembrya Smith said he began to truly excel as an athlete.
“If he was playing someone better, it was almost like he was watching that person and learning how to assemble something,” she said. “He would make sure he learned how to get better.”
Studying the games he played is what allowed Aldon Smith to harness his natural ability and mold himself into one of the country’s best defensive linemen.
“He’s real analytical,” Kembrya Smith said. “He is a deep thinker. He loves to take stuff apart and put it back together. Figure out how it works. When he sees a situation, he might not say a lot at that particular time, but he’ll come back a couple of days later and give his analysis. Usually he’s right on it.”
Walking through Missouri’s weight room, Aldon Smith seems at home.
He stacks weights onto a machine. He lifts the 45-pound plates as if they are Frisbees and places them gently on each side of the machine.
He’s no longer the oversized kindergartner that accidentally hurts his classmates on the playground.
In fact, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive end is in the business of hurting people. At least smashing them into the ground.
But it’s no longer just his size that makes Aldon Smith stand out. He’s crafted his body into football's version of the Vitruvian Man — a Leonardo da Vinci drawing of a man with his arms and legs at multiple angles showing showing the human body's ideal proportions. He took his oversized frame and built it into the ideal athlete.
With a 7-foot-2 wingspan, the ability to bench press 350 pounds and jump 40 inches from a standstill, Missouri’s defensive end is tough to stop … no matter what sport he’s playing.
In high school Aldon Smith was an All-Conference basketball player. Even after bulking up so he could compete as a Big 12 lineman, he didn’t lose his basketball skills. During the offseason he likes to scrimmage with members of the Missouri basketball team.
“I get my points, they get their’s,” Aldon Smith said.
“He’s a hell of a basketball player,” Aldon Smith’s roommate and high school friend Hilary Ikpe said. “He has the skills of a guard. He could play guard if he wants to. He could play D-I easily. I’m not usually the type to blow his head up, but when you have talent, you have talent.”
But throwing down a windmill dunk isn’t even the most remarkable thing Ikpe’s seen his best friend do. The top spot goes to Aldon Smith's standing back flip.
“Who do you know that’s 6-foot-5 that can do a standing back flip?” Ikpe said. “That’s more impressive than any sack he’s ever gotten.”
And he’s had quite a few of those. As a redshirt freshman Aldon Smith broke the Missouri single-season sack record with 11.5 and was named a first team Freshman All-American.
“I’ve faced a lot of good players, but someone with his pure talent is rare,” senior center Tim Barnes said. “He’s so built and strong and quick. You can’t teach somebody to be quick. You can get stronger, but a lot of times they don’t get as fast as he is.”
With all the admiration and respect from his teammates comes the leadership role that has been following him since middle school.
“I think I’m getting better at it," he said. "Developing more and understanding that even if you don’t really want to be a leader, that you’re an example because once you’re successful, people start paying attention to you.”
Aldon Smith found success in football, basketball, soccer and really every other competition that involved any sort of athleticism.
Only once did he quit a sport.
“He did wrestling in middle school, but he didn’t finish the season,” Kembrya Smith said. “He got out of it because he was afraid he was going to hurt somebody.”