Top receivers in Iron Bowl have little in common

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Julio Jones has been one of No. 1 Alabama's most talked about players since stepping on campus. Rod Smith arrived at Auburn with no fanfare -- or scholarship.

The routes they have run to becoming their teams' leading receivers going into Saturday's Iron Bowl are about as different as a Hail Mary and a screen.

The high school All-American and coveted recruit Jones became the Crimson Tide's instant go-to receiver, a dynamic freshman who has been the passing game's best threat.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder even draws considerable praise from a coach who parses it out carefully -- especially to young players.

"I think he's one of the top players in our league at his position," Tide coach Nick Saban said, calling him "outstanding."

Smith doesn't have the stats or the star power of his much younger counterpart. He does have that scholarship, though, along with 34 career starts.

Smith is leading the Tigers in receiving for the second consecutive season with 28 catches for 293 yards after spurning scholarship offers from small colleges and spending two seasons as a walk-on.

"I think about that every day," said Smith, who was awarded a scholarship before last season. "I've been truly blessed. God really blessed me. I couldn't have gotten anywhere without Him. I always thought I had it in me to be a top player in the SEC, come to Auburn and do well.

"I had a pretty successful career at Auburn. I just want to go out in the right way -- with a win against Alabama."

Jones has certainly come in the right way. Widely considered last year's top receiver prospect nationally, he has shown a knack for making athletic catches and being hard for defenders to bring down.

The combination has him ranked fourth in the league with 687 receiving yards, which works out to 37 percent of the Tide's yards through the air.

"I don't think there's many people that can cover him, to be honest with you," Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson said. "He's pretty good about getting open and making a play."

For Auburn, Smith's numbers have declined dramatically with season-long offensive struggles and a passing game that has never taken off.

He racked up a team-leading 705 yards receiving last season.

Smith started his Auburn career on the scout team working against current NFL corner Carlos Rogers, a Butler High School alum, and others and said that experience helped him get better. He walked on to play with friend and fellow receiver James Swinton, who received a scholarship from the Tigers but has played little during his career.

"Rod Smith's one of those guys I have a soft spot in my heart for because I was a walk-on," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I tried and worked to get a scholarship. It's so impressive to see young guys come out and stick with it. A lot of times, there's a small percentage of a chance to get that scholarship. It's really hard."


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