Walk-On To Remember

Some people said he would not keep his starting cornerback spot. Even fewer people ever thought he'd get there in the first place. But senior Antonio Smith continues to prove people wrong and prove he is a remarkable success story. The story continued with his game-sealing interception return for a touchdown against Penn State.

When Antonio Smith received an errant Anthony Morelli pass late in the game on Saturday and took it to the endzone for a touchdown, there were well over 105,000 smiling faces.

But none were grinning ear to ear as much as Smith himself.

"I broke on it; I bobbled the ball a little bit but I secured it and I just started running," he recalled of the interception. "I saw the Scarlet fans, the Scarlet-out, and I just continued to run."

Smith's first career interception capped off a 28-6 victory against Penn State. But even more, it put the senior cornerback and former walk-on into the spotlight for the first time in his tenure at Ohio State.

"He proved a lot to a lot of people especially coming in as a walk-on," said linebacker Marcus Freeman. "He just came out and worked really hard to prove himself."

In addition to his first interception, the 5-9 senior from Beechcroft High School in Columbus also had a career-best seven tackles.

Smith is an engineering major that was rewarded a scholarship by Jim Tressel in the spring of this year. He has made the successful transition from walk-on, to scout player to special teams star to starting corner with 20 tackles and an interception this year.

"It's a good example of good things happen to good people," said the head coach after the game on Saturday. "Everyone said Antonio's a good guy, he might never play here. All of a sudden he was on special teams because he was the best at whatever he was asked to do. Then everyone said, well, Antonio might not be the guy that would end up being a starter, and here he is. He's playing two positions; he plays corner and nickel for us. It just shows you that smart people with great passion, great toughness, can reach their goals and it's a wonderful story for a young person in today's world."

In 2002, Smith enrolled at Ohio State as a preferred walk-on and under an academic scholarship. He was not highly decorated out of high school beyond being named First-Team All-Columbus City League.

After redshirting in 2002 and playing sparingly in 2003, he earned a varsity letter in 2004 appearing in all 12 games and playing a large role on special teams in punt and kickoff coverage.

Smith played mostly special teams again last year, but with the departure of Ashton Youboty to the NFL, Smith competed for the starting vacated corner position this fall.

"It just feels good – it's a great opportunity," he explained. "I'm just thankful to be here; thankful to be apart of this team, thankful to be apart of this defensive unit. A lot of people doubt us and a lot of people don't think we can get the job done."

In four years, and now into his fifth season in the program, Smith has gone from an unknown to a starter at corner and nickel back.

It's something that doesn't happen very often, but Smith is taking it all in stride.

"I was just trying to help the team out," Smith said when he got to Ohio State. "Actually I was a scout player and I wasn't even looking at the field. I redshirted that year but I still wanted to help the team out the best I could."

Before Saturday, Smith's favorite memories were an interception in high school as a sophomore against Columbus West and a tackle he made against Michigan's Steve Breaston on a punt the 2004 Michigan showdown.

But this 55-yard interception return for a touchdown will obviously rank No. 1 in his heart for best moment.

"It feels good," he said. "It feels good just to be here."


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