Robert Smith was thrown in the fire from game one on campus, even picking off a pass in that first career contest against Troy.
The playing time, however, has come few and far between since.
After seeing the field for 38 snaps in his first two games, the Saint George native has played just under five snaps a game the last two seasons.
“Of course I wanted to play a little bit more, but everything is a process,” Smith said. You start one way and you work your way to the top. I just kept a level-head. Of course sometimes I was frustrated, but you just have to keep a level-head. God’s got a process for all of us.”
Smith was one of the top quarterbacks in the state his senior year at Woodland (over 4,200 total yards and 40 TDs). His defensive backs snaps there weren’t as frequent.
Smith embracing leadership role
The junior Tigers’ safety said he used last season to gain experience sitting behind now Buffalo Bill Jonathan Meeks.
“Last year was a learning curve for me and it really helped me learn,” Smith said. “Sat behind an NFL-bound safety, I learned a lot from him. I learned good things and bad. I learned his critiques.”
He, along with sophomore safety Travis Blanks, have been identified Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables as his most trusted on the Tiger ‘D’ going into ’13.
“It’s always good when a defensive coordinator has trust in you,” said Smith. “That’s how you get on the field – trust. I don’t believe any coach wouldn’t put a player on the field they didn’t trust. To me, that motivates me more to work harder. I don’t see myself as the best yet.”
He and Blanks organized something called ‘Sacrifice Saturdays’ this offseason as a players-driven workout program.
“It wasn’t mandatory, but me and Trav come up to the stadium 45 minutes to an hour,” Smith said. “Did some footwork, maybe catch 500 balls – just simple things to do better. Just to get a little edge to erase the question mark.”
Smith says that’s a part of a change in identity.
“Me and Travis decided that we weren’t going to have that question mark any more," he said. "Everybody on the defense is a leader, but me and Travis try to do extra to push everybody.”
The secondary and all its fresh faces has been an emphasis this fall camp.
The Tigers have eight freshmen and a pair of returning vets from injury. By all accounts including Smith’s, the freshmen are making their mark.
“All of the freshmen coming in are good,” he said. “They are competing. They’re learning what exactly to do. I really commend those guys to learn as much as they have so far. It’s a big learning curve from high school to college.
“When you have to (learn) 50 plays in one day, it can be a little bit discouraging, but I commend them that they’re doing a really good job.”
Smith’s year-long commitment is not only improving his game, but also everyone around him.
“I just try to bring it every day,” said Smith. “At the beginning of the year, I try to make myself a promise to try to bring it every single day. No days offs to be the best that I can be and try to make everyone around me better.”