Smith leads NCAA in way he never imagined

Following a three sack effort in Louisville's 31-10 at Connecticut, defensive end Marcus Smith is tied for the nation's lead. For the former quarterback, it's a spot he never imagined possible.

With three games remaining in the final regular season of his career, defensive lineman Marcus Smith is in a position that he never imagined he would find himself in.

A dual-threat quarterback at Columbus (Ga.) Hardaway, Smith arrived at the University of Louisville with hopes of having a career under center. He also realized a position change was a possibility for a quarterback with great athleticism and questionable accuracy.

"When I first got here I wanted to play quarterback," Smith said. "When Coach Strong came to me, I didn't really care about the change, I just wanted to be on the field."

While the position change didn't come as a surprise, the move to the defense was.

"I never imagined that," he explained. "Actually, when I came in, I thought if anything they would change me to tight end or somewhere on the offensive side of the ball. I would never think that I would be on the defensive side of the ball, but its paid great dividends and I'm ready to keep playing and working."

Smith has flourished since the position change his freshman year, when he earned his first start at linebacker in U of L's road win at Kentucky. He topped the team with 5.5 sacks as a sophomore and then as a junior, led all defensive lineman with 29 total tackles.

His play this year has elevated his name among some of the top defensive ends in the programs history.

"I feel like I've touched up on my techniques a lot better this year," he said. "Last year my goal was to get ten sacks and that didn't happen, so I made my expectations a little higher. I wanted to get fifteen sacks this year and I really wanted to work on my technique and fundamentals. I think that's what I've done a lot better this year."

On Friday night at Connecticut, Smith led a dominating defensive performance with 3 sacks and a forced fumble. His play upped his season team-leading sack total to 10.5 and 15 tackles for a loss.

The one-time quarterback is now tied with Kansas State's Ryan Mueller for first in the NCAA in total sacks. He ranks 7th nationally for tackles for a loss. His effort helps fuel an aggressive defense that trails only Utah in team sacks.

Smith's athleticism have allowed the coaching staff to utilize him at both end and linebacker this season.

"I like that a lot," said Smith. "It gets me involved a lot more than it did last year. I want to be the guy to make a lot of plays and I think coach sees that in me. When he moves around it puts a tough task on offenses so that I can make plays."

With three games remaining in the season, Smith still has his sights set on reaching his goal of 15 sacks. That would tie DeWayne White for the third best single season effort in program history.

"I believe it's possible. I just have to turn it up a notch these last couple games. I think it is possible that's what I want to get to this year."

As he nears the end of his collegiate career, Smith is placing his name in the Louisville record books. He's currently tied with Dewayne White for 10th for single season sacks and his 20.5 career sacks ranks 8th. His 31 career tackles for a loss is tied with Ted Washington for 8th on the career list.

"Thank God that I threw a couple bad balls because I'm in a great position right now," Smith said. "I'm playing defense and I'm loving it."

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