Smith Goes From Walk-On To Possible Starter

Fifth-year senior Antonio Smith spent four years as a walk-on at Ohio State. Smith earned his spot on the team as a valued special teams contributor. But with two openings at cornerback going into the upcoming season, the Buckeyes could turn to Smith to fill one of those openings. Click here for more.

One of the true rags to riches stories on the Ohio State football team this year is senior cornernack Antonio Smith.

The 5-9, 195-pound Smith entered fall camp penciled in as a starter at cornerback. This fifth-year senior from Columbus Beechcroft is a former walk-on, who was converted to scholarship status in the spring. Smith, a mechanical engineering major, had been on an academic scholarship prior to that.

"With my situation, I have been in the background and just playing my role," Smith said. "I started out with the scout team and that developed into special teams. Everybody has a role on this team. If you want to be a part of this team, you have to learn your role and play your role to the best of your ability.

"My role may increase this year. But I'm just trying to help out the team and get victories. That's all we ask for."

Smith has played in 27 games in his OSU career with most of his experience coming on special teams. Perhaps the biggest play he has made to date was a sure-handed tackle on punt coverage that pinned Michigan deep in its own end as the Buckeyes upset the Big Ten champion Wolverines in 2004.

It was moments just like that that led Smith to turn football scholarships elsewhere to have a chance to play for the hometown Buckeyes.

"I had some scholarship offers from some MAC schools," he said. "I wanted to come here for academic reasons. That was my first priority. I just gave it my best shot I could give it.

"It was just a great opportunity for me to come here and play. It's great being a local guy. I'm just trying to help out any way I can."

As a walk-on his first four years, Smith was not privy to a lot of the perks that go with being a scholarship player.

"Being a walk-on is tough," Smith said. "It is a lot of dedication, a lot of hard work and a lot of discipline. Early on, people might not know who you are and it can be a little tough. I feel like the players accepted me. Out on the field, we were together. That was the great part of it.

"You have to work harder. You have to work twice as hard to get that look and the coaches' respect. They didn't recruit you. You've got to come out here and compete so they say, ‘Who's that guy?' "

Senior wide receiver Roy Hall recalls meeting Smith back in 2002.

"When I came in for orientation, I think I was one of the first guys to meet Antonio Smith," Hall said. "I really didn't know who he was. He said, ‘I'm playing on the team.' I didn't remember him from our recruiting class. Then, I got the gist of the whole walk-on thing.

"He has been working hard since he's been here – as hard as possible. You've seen him on special teams and he's made some big plays for us there. He has some leadership qualities for us. He's been given the opportunity to step up as a starter. He's been given a scholarship, which says a lot. He's doing a great job. I know he is going to hold it down for us this year."

Smith went from just being happy to being on the team to wanting a regular role.

"When you come in, you have goals," he said. "My first goal was to just be out there and have a chance on the field. Once I accomplished that, I just set another goal. I became a defensive guy. Then, I set another goal to be on the defensive unit. As a competitor, you have you goals and you want to succeed.

"It's just a dream come true that I have the opportunity."

Smith said it was thrill to hear head coach Jim Tressel say he could have a football scholarship for his final year.

"It felt good," he said. "I felt fulfilled. Any time you have a goal set and you get it, you feel like you're getting that acknowledgement. It feels good. I worked hard for my four or five years here. To see the coaches' respect and the players' respect, that just felt good."

Smith said it helps the inexperienced secondary to go against OSU's talented receivers every day.

"We have one of the best receiving corps in the nation," he said. "We've got guys like Teddy Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez and Roy Hall and Brian Robiskie. They are all great. That's what makes it fun for us to go up against them every day."

Smith is in competition with redshirt freshman Donald Washington and Andre Amos and true freshman Kurt Coleman for the corner spot opposite sophomore Malcolm Jenkins, who started four games last year.

"Our whole corner group and secondary is competing against each other," Smith said. "We are staying together as a unit. We've got guys like Andre Amos, Donald Washington, Shaun Lane, Kurt Coleman and also Malcolm Jenkins. We are all out there trying to get better every day and competing as a unit. We are pushing each other as well. We try to push everyone to their full potential.

"Guys graduate and more guys come in. Sometimes, a freshman may step up. It's just a competition and the coaches feel like the best guys are going to play out there. You've got to bring you're A game to each practice and have the best practice you can have because the guy you're competing with might step up and be ahead of you."

As a fifth-year player, Smith said he has tried to be a leader and a sounding board for the younger players.

"Being an older guy, the young guys look up to you to see what they need to do next," he said. "I just try to lead by example. You have fifth-year senior guys and guys coming in with just as much talent."

Smith could be among nine new starters on defense. He thinks the defense has what it takes to help the Buckeyes achieve their goals this year.

"On defense, it will come down to who is going to make plays," he said. "We like to fly around and do things. Defense wins ballgames. You need guys who are going to stick it out to the end and give 110 percent on every play."


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