At any given point during the 2006 season, the senior, a former walk-on from Columbus Beechcroft, could have folded his tent, packed his bags or any other metaphorical phrase for being satisfied. After all, merely going from the proverbial outhouse to the penthouse is a storybook ending in itself.
But the 5-9 fifth-year senior and engineering major didn't just settle for being placed on scholarship this past spring. He didn't find satisfaction in merely competing for a starting job this fall. And after the season began, he didn't want to only have a few select shining moments.
Stacked against great odds, Smith has transformed into a near household name as a cornerback for the Buckeyes. That fact came full-circle Saturday afternoon against Indiana as Smith performed a tough act to follow – one that earned him co-Big Ten defensive player of the week.
Namely 12 tackles including four for a loss, one sack and a forced fumble.
"Seemed like every time I looked up, he (Smith) was making a hit in the backfield," said Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel. "I don't know how many people quite like him you get to be around in your life, just the character and the sacrifice he makes."
Shades of former OSU star, No. 11 Antoine Winfield, Smith was playing lockdown defense in pass coverage but also making tackles and bone-crushing hits from sideline to sideline.
The odds stacked against him, his lengthy and arduous engineering course load, has caused Smith to have to balance his hectic schedule between academics and the gridiron.
"He comes dragging into the Woody Hayes about an hour late every day and makes up the film time because he was in lab or whatever it happened to be," continued Tressel, "and he knows things inside and out."
His knowledge is a direct result of ample film study – even if it's all by his lonesome. With arriving late to practice or film sessions because of his school schedule, Smith is often spending long hours at night all by himself to catch up on lost time.
And people are taking notice.
"He had a great game today," said his cornerback counterpart Malcolm Jenkins. "It's all because of how he studies for the game during the week. He works hard and knows the game and the opponent very well."
So it's this simple: how does he have time for football in addition to a major commitment to his engineering studies?
Smith is a scholar, but apparently he's also a theologian.
"It's football," he says, "how do I have time for engineering?"
However he finds the time, he's around long enough to make believers out of his teammates.
The former walk-on has become a locker room favorite. His dedication by way of work ethic on and off the field (and in the weight room), as well as heavy amounts of film study, has made believers out of his Buckeye cohorts.
"I just love watching Antonio play," said defensive tackle David Patterson. "Like Coach Tressel said, just the kind of guy he is, all the adversity he's faced, you just love to see that and I'm just ecstatic with his performance today."
All that adversity was an easy reason Smith could have left football altogether to prepare for his life in the engineering field. At very least, when he reached his dreams of contributing to Ohio State this season, he could have easily settled for giving his two cents.
But as they say in show business, "the show must go on."
Go on it has. Smith may have reached his pinnacle on Sep. 23 against Penn State with a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown. He could have gone on to be just another cog in a pretty successful Ohio State defense to date.
But with Saturday's big game against the Hoosiers, Smith is now second on the team in tackles with 43. He has six-and-a-half for loss as he's also credited for a sack and pass breakup.
A modest Smith doesn't bask much in the afterglow of the media limelight harping on his newfound success.
He sticks to his team-first mentality and talks about team-oriented achievements. So a simple overstatement best describes his situation.
"I've come a long way," Smith said. "Five years of hard work is finally paying off. It's been fun."
Although most people are seeing the fruits of that harvest for the very first time, you won't necessarily find many of his teammates that are surprised by Smith's emergence. The ones that have been seeing him make plays for the last few years.
"I think Antonio has always been a great player," said senior co-captain Quinn Pitcock. "I think he was just given the opportunity to be in situations to make big plays and I've thought he could do it and he was able to do it today."
Through it all, Smith smiles and praises the lofty accomplishments of his defense – allowing 165 total yards and only three points against Indiana.
Perhaps more star-struck by the whole experience even still, he remains humbled by his own stardom. A reporter asks of the excitement of being starting corner and making a splash.
He gives a genuine nod and grins.
"It's very exciting to be a part of this defense – this unit," Smith replies.