By Gray Gardner.
CLEMSON, S.C. – Robert Smith was one of 12 true freshmen to play in their first collegiate game Saturday versus Troy. Smith met with members of the media Monday to discuss his first game, first interception, and his transition from offense to defense.
Several Clemson freshmen had special moments in their first games as Tigers, Robert Smith not excluded.
Late in the fourth quarter, with the game finally out of reach, Smith found himself in position to make the first great play of his career.
“I just started looking at the quarterback and really got a jump on the ball. Once I started going towards it I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got a chance to get my first college career interception,’” Smith said. “When I dove for it – once I knew I had it – it was a feeling I can’t even explain.”
Smith is no stranger to catching the ball – the Bowman, S.C. native actually starred as an offensive threat in high school. The Woodland High School product said he played fewer than 40 snaps on defense in high school, and is still trying to transition to that side of the ball.
“When I first got here I was still thinking about playing offense,” Smith said. “The first time I came here was in May and we had skills in drills. They said offense over here, defense over there. I walked ten steps toward the offense and said, ’Oh, I’m on defense.’”
The freshman credits athletic ability as the reason he’s been able to transition so easily.
“It was a little bit of an adjustment, but when you’re an athlete you can get used to playing anything,” he said. “Once I got accustomed to it I was good.”
This biggest obstacle for Smith has undoubtedly been Kevin Steele’s defensive scheme. But Smith said even with its complexity he had no choice but to learn it.
“It was pretty complex, but they drill it in you. You have no choice but to get it. You’re going to get it eventually,” he said. “At first you’re going to be stressing, like I don’t even know if I can play this kind of football at this level. But once you get it it’s good.”
Smith is working hard to get on the field more and more in his freshmen season. Several people counted him out for playing time this year considering his transition from offense to defense. The chip on Smith’s shoulder has only helped his cause.
“Most people said it would be hard for me to play this year with the transition from offense to defense. So I came here with the mindset like I’m going to come in here and try to do my best and have a great chance of playing this year knowing that we kind of had a lack in safeties. By the second week of camp when I started really progressing and learning the playbook, I said, ‘I can play college ball. I can compete. I can help the team this year.’”
The freshmen credits teammates and starting safeties Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks for helping him transition as well as he has thus far.
“I want to be like them,” Smith said. “Rashard just graduated from college and he still has another year of eligibility? I was like man, I want to do things like them. It’s good having those two helping me out.”
With Rashard Hall set to miss at least one week due to an injury, Smith will get his chance to be more like them on the field.