Chad Smith saw his years of patience pay off and reaped the fruits of his labor last Saturday night when he was named the Defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl after recording 12 tackles (0.5 for loss) during Clemson’s 29-23 victory over Ohio State in Glendale, Arizona.
Smith, a fifth-year linebacker, had to wait his turn before finally earning a starting role in his final season. So, he was naturally emotional as he stood on the podium and accepted the individual award after more importantly helping the Tigers advance to their second straight national championship game.
That moment on the big stage made all of Smith’s hard work and countless hours grinding away on the football field worth it.
“It definitely did make it all worth it,” he said. “Just the journey that I’ve been on, starting January 5, 2015, when I first got on campus as a freshman, having to redshirt that year, and just buying my time, being patient, and then this year getting the opportunity to be a starter and being able to fulfill that role to the best of my ability and being able to help lead this team to where we are now, to another national championship run, and being able to be part of such a great team with players like Trevor (Lawrence) and Jamie (Skalski) and the leaders that we have and the guys on this team. It was just an emotional moment to be a part of such a great game and a great moment.”
After redshirting in 2015, Smith played mostly on special teams the following season, splitting defensive special teams player of the year honors with Tanner Muse, and did not see the field on defense for more than 133 snaps in 2017 or 2018.
But after the departure of starting weakside linebacker Kendall Joseph following last season, Smith has stepped into that role seamlessly and emerged as an anchor of Clemson’s defense. The former four-star prospect from Dominion High School in Sterling, Virginia, ranks third on the team with 80 tackles, a total that includes five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Smith did not expect to take home the MVP hardware or be recognized for his standout performance in the College Football Playoff semifinal, but when asked about the award, he was quick to credit his teammates for helping put him in a position to be successful.
“It definitely was an honor to be awarded the MVP,” Smith said. “I didn’t realize it until they just pulled me aside when everyone was about to get up on stage and say, you’re the defensive MVP, and I said, oh, wow, that’s crazy, because there’s a lot of players on that defense that could have won defensive MVP. We had a lot of players that had a heck of a game, and being able for me to go out there and execute the way we were supposed to execute on some of the plays out there in order for me to make those plays, it was pretty special. I mean, all this hard work and all this perseverance and commitment all came to fruition that night, being able to be recognized on a stage like that was just truly an honor.”
Smith, a key cog on a Clemson team seeking its third national title in four years, says he would not be where he is today were it not for his teammates, coaches and the former Tiger linebackers that paved the way before him.
“I wouldn’t have been able to get to that position if it wasn’t for my teammates, if it wasn’t for my coaches who invested their time in me and coached me up, my people that came before me, the Ben Boulwares, the B.J. Goodsons, the guys that set the example what it looks like to be a leader, to be a playmaker out on the field, the Kendall Josephs, those guys that set the example for me. And then for me to be able to kind of follow in their footsteps and be able to shine in a big moment like that is special. It’s definitely something that I will remember for the rest of my life.”
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