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Akili: "Holdout killed me'

9-6-01, 7:15 a.m.


From one Smith to another, Akili wants Justin to know his own 1999 holdout "killed me," in a career that has never seemed to rebound from the 25-day sit that consumed 27 practices.

If defensive end Justin Smith, the Bengals' first-round draft choice chooses to sit out this season and go back into the 2002 draft, quarterback Akili Smith can't see it.

"He's not going to go any higher next year," Akili Smith said after Wednesday's practice. "And he's missing a lot of football. My advice to him is to try to get as much as you can up front because the bonus is the only thing guaranteed."

Actually, the only thing guaranteed now is that the Bengals' offer is going to get slashed if he's not signed before the regular season begins Sunday. And that looks to be a virtual given since agent Jim Steiner and the club hadn't spoken since last week at the end of business Wednesday.

Akili Smith knows what Justin Smith is going through. He lived it for nearly four weeks.

"I know where he's coming from," Akili said. "The agent says this, the agent says that, and the agent is more experienced. I understand that, but there comes a point where you, the player, has the final say to just get it done."

The Justin contract is hung up on escalators. As in,

what criteria should be used to trigger money that can max out at $40.5 million. Akili hasn't been able to meet any of his escalators that would have hit $50 million. He still has the $10.8 million signing bonus.

"One of the reasons I haven't made the escalators is I'm behind," Akili said. "If I got in at the beginning of camp, I would have had more reps even though I was just backing up Jeff (Blake), and if something had happened, I could have at least had more experience after I started playing (five games into the season) against Cleveland."

Akili said if he had to do it all over again, he would have consulted with agent Leigh Steinberg as much as possible as he did, but he would have speeded things up once he knew he had the maximum bonus, which was pretty much figured out long before camp.

Akili doesn't buy the argument that Justin can come in and play quicker than most late arrivals because of his position.

"A holdout basically takes your whole rookie year." Smith said. "He's had no training camp. He's only had minicamp. He's had no live contact. He's going against those big tackles who have been here a long time and he's only a rookie."

But Akili Smith is pulling for Justin Smith: "I hope he's still working out and he's still focused and he can get it done."

MUNOZ AT WHITE HOUSE: At the invitation of President Bush, Bengals Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Munoz, the first Hispanic-American elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and wife DeDe attended Wednesday night's State Dinner at the White House in honor of Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Muñoz' grandparents grew up in Mexico before coming to the United States. He grew up in Ontario, Calif., and went to college at Southern California before playing with the Bengals from 1980-92. **

INJURY UPDATE:** Rookie G Victor Leyva (ankle) is doubtful for Sunday after getting hurt in Wednesday's practice. QB Scott Mitchell (ankle) and WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (foot) remain out.

NICE CLUB: In the three years Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna and Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy played for the East Side Tacoma Boys and Girls Club, their team lost one game.

By 7-6. But they did win three straight Pierce County titles from the time Milloy, a fourth-grader, joined the fifth-grader Kitna.

Rick Fox, an assistant coach from that team, knows you're not supposed to lose any games if you have a future Pro Bowl safety playing linebacker on defense and a future NFL playoff quarterback running the offense on the same youth team. Plus, Milloy played running back.

"The coaches lost that game, not the players," said Fox, who ended up following Milloy and Kitna to Lincoln High School as an assistant.

Here's Fox's quick scouting report:

"Lawyer was a stud. He had the physical and mental makeup. Jon wasn't as polished. But he was a very emotional player. He was always getting mad at himself, thinking he could be doing more. I remember at one post-season awards we gave him the team's crying towel."

Kitna and Milloy were more than just football teammates. They played basketball and baseball and spent a lot of time hanging out together in the same neighborhood.

Milloy says he won't be trash talking.

"Just out of respect for the kind of person he is," Milloy said. "The thing that stands out about Kitna is that he's a competitor. . .Before the game I might give him a little hug, (or) pat on the butt. After that, it's war. He knows that."

Thanks to the NFL scheduling quirks, this is the first meeting between the two since both have been in the league the past six seasons.

"Not many guys from our area make it," Kitna said, "so it's nice to be playing against him in the same game. It's something I've always looked forward to."

As for Fox, he's coaching at another high school in the Tacoma area and he plans to buy the game for his TV. But he'll have to tape it because he and his wife have tickets to see Cal Ripken Jr.'s last game in Seattle.

Kitna's closest friend from that team won't be able to make it even though he's just less than two hours away. E.J. Mitchell, a graduate assistant coach at Louisville, has to spend Sunday breaking down film.

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