Hakeem Smith set for record game with Cards

University of Louisville senior safety Hakeem Smith will start his 51st game for the Cardinals - a new school record - in the Russell Athletic Bowl. He is a four-year All-Conference performer.

University of Louisville safety Hakeem Smith notched his 50th career start in the team's Dec. 5 win at Cincinnati, tying him with offensive lineman Travis Leffew for the school's all-time record.

If all goes as expected, the redshirt senior will make the record his own on Dec. 28, when the team travels to Orlando, Fla. to take on Miami (Fla.) in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

"It's big (to break the record)," Smith told Cardinal Authority after Sunday's practice. "Having that many games straight, showing that I'm durable and I've been consistent."

"I can't miss a game. It's just not in me."

As a fifth-year player, Smith is one of nine holdovers from the Steve Kragthorpe era. The 6-foot-2, 179-pounder credits head coach Charlie Strong and staff for much of the success he's enjoyed as a Cardinal.

"The coaches have played a big part in who I am today," Smith said. "They came in, they changed a lot of things, they changed the atmosphere. We adapted, and they created a great player in me."

Smith, a two-star recruit coming out of Jonesboro, Ga.'s Riverdale High School, also noted that Strong & Co. helped make a smooth transition to life as a full-time defender, as many schools were recruiting him as a wide receiver.

The career starts record is not the only piece of Cardinal history that Smith holds. By being named first team All-American Athletic Conference last week, Smith became just the second Cardinal to receive All-Conference honors four times.

With 287 career tackles and four career interceptions, Smith has gone from being the 2010 Big East Newcomer of the Year to one the team's biggest leaders.

"(My first season) I didn't speak too much," Smith admits of his redshirt freshman season, in which he led the team in tackles with 88.

"As the years went on I became (more of a leader). I made the game fun, and guys saw me as that."

Kickoff between the Cardinals and Hurricanes, which will be Smith's 51st career start, is set for 6:45 p.m. on Dec. 28.

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