Nate D. Smith is making quite an impression at Temple's spring practices.

"He's a very instinctive player," Owls coach Steve Addazio said of the redshirt freshman middle linebacker. "He's still learning but, boy, he plays fast, and he makes plays.

"So I like what I've seen out of him right now. He's just got to keep growing as a player and make sure he's accountable."

Despite standing just 5-foot-10 and weighing 220 pounds, Smith has a chance to win the starting position vacated by Stephen Johnson.

What he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in quickness, aggression, and jarring tackles.

Those strengths enabled him to become a three-time all-state performer at Highland Park High School in New Jersey. It also made it possible for the former two-way standout, at running back and linebacker, to escape the shadow of having a successful older brother.

L.J. Smith was the Eagles' second-round draft pick in 2003. After his six-year career in Philadelphia, the tight end played one season for the Baltimore Ravens.

"People didn't compare us," Smith said of their Highland Park careers, "because we played two different positions, and I played with a lot more intensity and aggressiveness than he did.

"He was quiet and he made plays, constantly. But I was always yelling and making plays all over the place."

Unlike his older brother, who played college ball at Rutgers, Smith wasn't highly recruited coming out of high school. Temple was the lone Football Bowl Subdivision program to offer him a scholarship.

His failing to meet the necessary NCAA academic standards might have scared off some schools.

But Smith said Temple never wavered, even when he spent a postgraduate year at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia to meet the NCAA's academic requirements.

"I'm glad they stuck with me," Smith said of the Owls. "That's what motivated me a lot when I was at the prep school. I made sure I got my grades and was eligible to come here."

He arrived at North Broad Street last summer and redshirted the 2011 season. Now, Smith, who was known primarily as a seek-and-destroy type of player, is focusing on playing more under control. And he's turning heads in the process.