November 8, 2006

Smith keeps shining

To understand the distance that Antonio Smith has traveled to rise from walk-on player to Thorpe award finalist one must first understand what Smith faces when he steps outside the lines of football.

Like most of his teammates Smith came to Ohio State on scholarship. Not an athletic scholarship but rather an academic one, in Mechanical Engineering. Not familiar with what a mechanical engineer does? The Columbia Encyclopedia states that:

"Mechanical engineering is concerned with the design, construction, and operation of power plants, engines, and machines. It deals mostly with things that move. One common way of dividing mechanical engineering is into heat utilization and machine design. The generation, distribution, and use of heat is applied in boilers, heat engines, air conditioning, and refrigeration. Machine design is concerned with hardware, including that making use of heat processes."

Not exactly the course load one would expect a Thorpe Award semi-finalist to be carrying, but nothing has been typical about Smith's rise from walk-on player to special team stand out to starter on the nation's top scoring defense.

"I knew if I gave it all I had then I would get a chance to play," Smith said. "I was the guy that everyday people was expecting to slow down or give less because I am a walk-on but I feel that being a walk-on gives me an advantage. I know I'm as good as anyone else and if someone hears "walk-on" and then thinks less of me, I'll show them why they should respect me."

Smith's persistence was rewarded with a football scholarship this past spring. That has meant no slow down on the academics for the four-time scholar athlete who is on pace to graduate in the spring of 2007.

When Ashton Youboty declared early for the NFL draft last season it left Smith at the top of the depth chart but his path to the starting line up was anything but a

"At the beginning of the season I knew what my goals were," Smith said. "I knew what I had to do to get better as a person and as a player. I don't think anyone knew who the starters would be early on, but I just knew I had to work hard."

The hard work paid off and entrenched Smith in the starting lineup. Head coach Jim Tressel has nothing but praise for his senior cornerback and all the hard work that he has put in on and off the field for the team.

"It's a great reminder of when people believe what they can accomplish, because if you would have told me two years ago that Antonio Smith would be starting, I'd have said, oh, boy, I respect your football intellect, but I can't agree," Tressel said. "If you'd have told me that this August, I'd have said, you know, I'm not sure. But he believed he could play to that level, and that's what's most important. And it wasn't that anyone disbelieved, but I don't know that anyone was sure, but he was. And that's just the way he is. He's sure he will he'll have that mechanical engineering degree, whether he needs to study until 4:00 in the morning, but he's going to get it."

Now Smith is the second leading tackler on the team with 54 tackles and is a major contributor to the No. 23 pass defense in the country. But don't expect the 5-foot-9 cornerback to get a big head over that or being named to the Thorpe Award semi-finalist list.

"I am very thankful," Smith said. "I thank God for the ability to be in this position. It is a great honor. I just wanted to be part of the team. I am just glad to be able to do things to help the team out."

"He just has belief in goals and things that he wants to do and the fact that he's a finalist for the Thorpe Award is a testament to his production," Tressel said. "I'm sure he was not on anyone's watch list, but he produced, and obviously someone noticed him and I don't have a vote for the Thorpe Award, and people have noticed and that's special."

What are Smith's goals for the rest of the season and does he have any NFL aspirations before he takes his mechanical engineering degree into the workforce?

"I am just trying to get better each day as a player and as a person," Smith said. "I consider that a success. At the end of the season we will evaluate the situation and go from there. Right now, I just want to win a few more ball games."

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