IRVING, Texas - Cowboys rookie right tackle Tyron Smith sat in front of his locker Thursday and fiddled with the customized remote-control car that was a Christmas present from fellow offensive linemen Kyle Kosier and Doug Free.
It was a rare reminder this season of Smith's youth.
Otherwise, Smith hasn't looked anything like the youngest player in the NFL, which he is. Just 11 days ago, Smith reached the legal drinking age of 21.
So much has been made of the rise of Cowboys third-round pick DeMarco Murray. Meanwhile, Smith has quietly turned in a standout season after the Cowboys drafted him No. 9 overall in April out of Southern California.
"Tyron has been very impressive," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. "What's been demonstrated is his mental toughness and his willingness to handle some adversity, handle some success, handle some injury, and just keep playing. He has a bright future."
Smith's immediate challenge comes Saturday, when he'll face off against NFL sack leader Jason Babin for the second time. The Eagles defensive end used a spin move to sack Tony Romo twice the first time, in late October.
Smith said he's been studying Babin.
"The guy I'm going against this week knows my mistakes and knows my issues I have to work on," Smith said. "I have to work on that this week and be prepared."
Rest assured that Smith won't be outworked.
From the time he was 6, Smith cleaned windows of commercial buildings, vacuumed carpets, and stripped and waxed floors to help with the family's California cleaning business.
"He knew from that age he had to go to work," said Frankie Pinkney, Smith's mother. "It taught him good work ethic and discipline. It gave him a good foundation."
Said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: "When we talked to him [before the draft], he was so proud of that, and that carried over to football . . . how hard he works at it. His coaches used to think of reasons for him to stay at school so he wouldn't have to work all night."
Smith said he would work late into the night helping the family - his mother, stepfather Roy Pinkney, and three sisters and two brothers - clean buildings.
Smith said his family would always have him cleaning windows.
"Nobody could reach the windows I could reach," Smith said. "I basically worked every night. Growing up, we were struggling. I would do my homework in the car on the way to work in a building. I would get my rest on the way to other jobs. We didn't get back home until late at night when I was in elementary school. And then it was time for me to go to school."
Smith's work ethic was evident from the very first days of training camp, when he began staying after practice to work with offensive line coach Hudson Houck on technique.
Since then, Smith has been the Cowboys' most consistent offensive lineman. He's played all but eight snaps. One of Smith's best assets is his strong hands. He can physically overmatch a defensive player.
"When he gets his hands on you, it's a wrap," Cowboys guard Montrae Holland said.
He's shown toughness, too, by playing through a hyperextended right knee and dislocated right ring finger.
Smith has been called for six penalties - the second most among offensive players - but he has been flagged only twice over his last nine games.
"He's had a real good year for a rookie and really for any offensive lineman," Eagles coach Andy Reid said.
Smith's parents maintain their home in Riverside, Calif., but they also lease a home in Irving so they can watch every home game. Smith's parents also attended road games at San Francisco and Arizona.