The way Preston Smith has been playing so far in 2014, nobody is going to be against it happening. Oh, the defensive end had already put together a competent underclassman career with 86 tackles, 7.0 sacks and a dozen total stops for losses. But this senior season has been performed at an entirely higher level.
Through three games Smith has recorded two sacks with a forced fumble, blocked two field goals—one returned by a teammate for touchdown--and made a spectacular interception that he ran back for a score himself against UAB. And for all three weeks of this early schedule Smith has been named the SEC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week. That’s not just a Mississippi State record but a consecutive streak not achieved before by any league lineman.
Hmmm, is Smith getting a bit bored with these weekly honors? “Oh, no I can never get bored with the recognition of being best Defensive Lineman of the Week award. It feels so good to get the award. And I feel like it’s a team award, also, it’s not an individual award.”
However there is one terrific prize Smith is proud to call his own. That’s daughter Lauren, born the morning of the Liberty Bowl and now his own “good-luck charm” for the senior season. Of course when Smith led the Bulldog defense in bowl tackles that signaled how his football fortunes were already changing for the best.
Smith spoke with a handful of media who lingered late after Wednesday’s practice to talk to State’s Three-Peat defensive end. It was well-worth our wait and not just to talk football. The Q&A needs no doctoring either to express the joyful state of Smith’s life these days.
You only have nine tackles but every time you make a play it’s a sack or interception or block or something big? “Yeah, my team opens up a lot of different situations for me to get a lot of big plays. And it just seems like every time I make a play as soon as it happens it turns into a big play.”
So what is next for you to do? “I want to recover a fumble, pick up a fumble and take it! Hopefully it can happen in this game, somebody tackles him or I tackle him and maybe I have enough time to get up and pick up the ball and take it to the end zone!”
What is different about you this senior season? “Just the focus. The focus I’ve had this year. And the preparation is different from the previous years. And, probably my daughter being my good-luck charm for the game.”
“I want to provide for my child what I didn’t get as a child, coming up wanting a lot of things because my Momma couldn’t afford it being a single parent. I just want to provide for her everything that she wants, spoils her. She’ll be my little Princess, I’ll give her a little kingdom or whatever wherever we may land!”
What does having a daughter mean? “She means the world to me. That’s my first child. I brought her into the world. She looks just like me and I can’t deny her no matter what! And she brings so much joy to my life, every time I see her she smiles so hard. Like when I went to pick her up at day care this morning she was just waking up, she looked at me and smiled so hard and reached out for me to pick her up or hold her.”
Has she been to a game yet? “I think she came to the UAB game. The first game it rained and they didn’t want to bring her to the game and get her sick. But she came to the UAB game, and I think she got a shade darker during the game!”
The price of all those awards is more attention from blocker and more work? “Yeah, it increases my work load. But it’s expected, what is going to come after getting a lot of awards week-by-week. I know I expect double-teams, slide protection, back helping now, chip blocking, and a lot of different things getting thrown my way to prevent me from having another big game.”
LSU is more a power running team, how does that change your mindset going in? “It doesn’t change my mindset. Because we come to the game knowing we have to stop the run. Because they’re a heavy-power team and love to run the ball first and love to grind and pound the ball. And we know we have to stop the ball, to put us in passing situations.”
That’s their strength, but you have stopped the run so far this season too? “Well, we know they love to run the ball. We know they’re going to run the ball no matter what and they’re not going to hide anything. They’re going to line up and try to run the ball and we know we have to line up and try to stop the ball. That’s their favorite thing to do, to give their backs a lot of touches and get them in their groove and hopefully get a big run out of it.”
You were at the Liberty Bowl when your daughter was born? “Yeah, I was in Memphis, My Mom called me late, like 2:00 in the morning. She’d called me like at 11:00 “we’re going to the hospital” she was taking them to the hospital. I was at the hotel laying down, the day before the game.”
”Then the day of the game at 2:00 in the morning she called me. My phone rang, I’d left it on live just so I could know what was going on. She called me and I answered and I heard my daughter crying in the background.”
So you were asleep when the call came? “I was kind asleep but I was aware I was about to get a call, so I wasn’t in a deep sleep!”
And when you got that call? “The sleep got so peaceful after that call. I said OK, thank you, I’m glad everything…and she said she’s healthy and she looks just like you. I said OK, thank you Momma, I’m going to call you back later!”