The sophomore safety came across as mild-mannered in an April 2 post-practice interview, but a smile crept across his face when asked what he feels he does best on the football field.
“I’m going to get to the ball with some intentions,” he said with a smile, pausing before repeating it for effect. “I love hitting. I love football and the contact.”
Smith may speak softly, but he delivers some big hits.
At Glenville, he learned from head coach Ted Ginn that there’s no replacement for laying a good lick on opposing receivers. That mentality showed up in previous Tarblooders like former OSU star and current Cleveland Browns safety Donte Whitner, who once considered legally changing his surname to Hitner.
“Coach Ginn always used to preach to us that there’s no substitution for helmet and shoulder pads,” Smith said. “Everything else is going to come. You have to have the heart to actually hit. That’s just what Coach Ginn preaches, just have the heart to be a violent football player.”
Ginn’s latest big hitter has that heart, and didn’t have a problem showing it last fall as a true freshman. Playing on special teams and getting some snaps as a backup safety, Smith finished his first season in Columbus with 13 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery. He expects even bigger things in his second season, and his teammates tend to agree. Junior safety Tyvis Powell was particularly effusive in his praise of his backup.
“Erick’s the man,” Powell said. “I tell you what, if I ever break a shoestring, ain’t nobody going to blink an eye. Everybody’s going to be like, ‘You know what? We’re good.’”
Smith smiled when told what Powell had said about him. He certainly believes he’s made the leap from newcomer to mainstay, noting that he feels he’d be 100 times more ready to step into a game than he was at the start of last season.
“Last year, I felt like I was real fresh,” Smith said. “I wasn’t really special to the program. This year, I feel like I took great steps towards maturing as a player.”
The 6-0, 198-pound safety said a full year of playing behind guys like Powell and junior safety Vonn Bell combined with time in the film room has sharpened his instincts.
“It don’t matter what 40 you run – if you don’t know what you’re doing, your speed of the game is going to be slow,” Smith said. “The more I study film, the more I watch guys like Tyvis and Vonn, the faster I start to play.”
All of that adds up to one conclusion – those intentions might be delivered to receivers quicker than ever in the years to come.