After waiting his turn, Robert Smith ready for role as secondary mainstay

Converted quarterback racked up more than 11,000 total yards, 124 TDs during prep career

Clemson's Brent Venables talks to Clemson's Robert Smith during spring football practice.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Brent Venables talks to Clemson's Robert Smith during spring football practice.

When Robert Smith arrived at Clemson in the fall of 2011, he thought he knew a thing or two.

One of the most prolific quarterbacks in South Carolina prep football history, he doubled as a defensive back for Woodland High in St. George, S.C., where he played for coach Reed Charpia.

Although he was recruited by Clemson from the get-go as a safety, playing the position was something of a secondary pursuit for Smith during his high school career.

When, because of necessity, he was pressed into service as a true freshman, he found he had a thing or two yet to learn.

"It's not like in high school where you just sit in the middle of the field," said Smith. "You've got keys and you've got rotations."

These days, as he prepares for his junior season as the Tigers' starter at free safety, he sees a bit of himself in first-semester freshman teammate Jadar Johnson.

"Coming in like he did in January, Jadar got that shock that every freshman goes through," Smith said. "It's really more than you ever expect...But he's really coming around. The last couple of practices, he's learning more and he's understanding the game more.

"I was impressed when I first saw him because he's got that 'want-to,' and that's always good to see."

'Want-to' is high on the list of Smith's attributes, as well.

He showed it when he jumped into Clemson's defense full-speed ahead in 2011, making the transition to being a full-time defensive player after racking up more than 11,000 yards of total offense and accounting for 124 touchdowns during his high school career.

For the past two seasons, he's seen spot action at safety while contributing as a regular member of Clemson's special teams.

"He's waited his turn," said Dabo Swinney, "just waiting for (Jonathan) Meeks and (Rashard) Hall to get out of here."

Although he and secondary coach Mike Reed have worked with limited numbers this spring, defensive coordinator Brent Venables will come out of spring practice with confidence in his first-line safeties - Smith and Travis Blanks.

"They've been really solid," Venables said. "They work at it. They're smart and they care. You don't always have guys who are so locked in and focused. They come every day, and they've got a great maturity and humility about them; and that allows you to coach them hard and expect a lot."

Smith said the players competing at the safety spots are interchangeable.

"Jadar and Dante Stewart are working behind me (at strong safety) now, but at this point everybody's learning to play both positions," Smith said. "We've got a primary position, but everybody's been rotating."

Smith knows the competition will be bumped up a notch when seven freshmen defensive backs arrive this summer and join the preseason mix.

He's looking forward both to competing and teaching.

"You want competition, because competition brings out the best in everybody," Smith said. "When those guys come in, I'm going to try to teach them everything I can so that we can be the best we can be.

"If I go down or Travis goes down, we don't want it to be anything we have to worry about."

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