Smith, linebackers eager to climb the mountain, again

Smith, linebackers eager to climb the mountain, again

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Smith, linebackers eager to climb the mountain, again

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Chad Smith has been a consistent performer for the Clemson defense over the past four years and looks no different heading into his last season with the Tigers.

Last year, Smith recorded 35 tackles, 1 sack, and a fumble recovery in 15 games. The graduate student from Sterling, Virginia has been a versatile player for the linebacker group and is familiar with all three positions.

“Being here and going into my fifth year, it’s definitely helped a lot knowing all three positions—MIKE, WILL, and SAM,” Smith said. “The main difference playing WILL is that you’re in the boundary, so everything happens a little bit quicker, where MIKE is a little bit more out in space in the field. So, that’s probably the biggest adjustment. Coach (Mike) Reed thought that I could be very useful at WILL and that my strengths would be very good there this year.”

The departure of Shaq Smith to the University of Maryland came at a shock for most and brought depth and experience into question at linebacker, especially with the departure of so many veterans from last season’s team like Kendall Joseph, Tre Lamar and J.D. Davis. This further opened the door though for a veteran like Chad Smith and defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ let him know early on that he was the man for the job.

“‘You’re the guy. You’re it right here, so go make the most of it. It’s an opportunity right there,’” Smith said about Venables’ message. “Either way, whether he was here or not, there’s still an opportunity to compete every single day, so that’s what my mindset is.”

With camp just four days in and no positions set as of now, the linebacker group is full of eagerness, especially the freshmen.

“They are eager,” Smith said. “They really want to learn and are asking a lot of questions.”

This eagerness to ask questions, improve, and perform reminds Smith of himself when he was in their shoes and was asking those same questions to guys like Ben Boulware, who was the defensive MVP for Clemson’s National Championship team in 2016.

“I can distinctly remember how I was back in the day. I was always asking Ben Boulware questions all the time on the sidelines and he would get kind of annoyed how many questions I would be asking,” Smith said. “That’s kind of how I feel a little bit with them, but it’s good. They really want to learn and it’s definitely going by extremely fast for them and we’ve all been there once.”

Although Smith has had quite the run with the Tigers, his work is not finished yet. Both he and the rest of his linebackers are coming into the season with a clean slate and to prove that they are still relevant and still here to make a run for another championship.

“After last year, it was a historic season, but we are kind of coming into this camp with a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We’re not trying to rely on last year’s success for this year’s success because that’s just not how things go. You can’t carry over last year’s touchdowns or last year’s sacks to this year.”

The message this year is no different than any other year. Clemson has set the standard for college football and continues to be a contender each and every year, playing in the last three of four national championships, but constantly remembering not to become complacent in the championships and to continue being who Clemson is.

“Each year, we believe that we have a target on our back. We felt that way last year and felt that way the year before,” Smith said. “Each and every day, we put our best foot forward and continue to improve. We don’t settle for anything because nothing is going to be given to us. Everybody’s going to come out and play Clemson with a bigger chip on their shoulder than they would an ordinary team.”

And, as strength and conditioning coach Joey Batson describes it best, “They don’t put championship rings on smooth hands, you gotta go earn it.” This still rings true, as both the Tigers and Smith chase another trip to the College Football Playoff, while climbing the mountain to another possible national championship.

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