Antonio Smith Among Thorpe Semifinalists

Earlier this week, it was announced that Ohio State senior cornerback Antonio Smith was among 11 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, presented annually to the nation's top defensive back. The award mention came out of left field for Smith, a former walk-on who is enjoying a fine first season as a starter for the Buckeyes. Click here for more.

One of the most amazing success stories for Ohio State this year has been senior cornerback Antonio Smith.

Smith, a former walk-on from nearby Columbus Beechcroft, saw his dream season get even better earlier this week when he was recognized as one of 11 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, presented annually to the nation's top defensive backs.

"I'm just thankful," Smith said. "I thank God for blessing me. For me to have the ability to be in this position, it's a great honor and it just feels great."

Smith was asked if he expected such recognition.

"No, not at all, especially after coming in as a walk-on," he said. "I just wanted to be part of the team. I'm just glad to be here. Anything I can do to help the team out, I'm glad to do it. It's just a great honor."

When Ashton Youboty left OSU a year early for the NFL, the 5-9, 195-pound Smith stepped into the opening at corner. The rest has been history as he stands second on the team in tackles with 49, including 6-1/2 tackles-for-loss. He also has a pair of interceptions (one for a touchdown against Penn State) and a fumble forced.

When asked to size up his one season as an OSU starter, Smith said, "Right now, it's all a big blur. Once it's over, I can definitely look back and smile upon this season. I'm just glad to be here and be a part of this defensive unit and this great team. Hopefully, we can continue to win and win a couple more games and be a great team. I'm just glad to be here."

Smith first got noticed as a special teams player covering punts.

"Playing on special teams, you have to start somewhere," he said. "I played on special teams and defined my role there. Special teams is a big part of this game. It's a key component and we need it."

But the highly motivated Smith wanted more and he worked hard to get it.

"I knew what my goal was and I knew I had to get better as a person and as a player," he said. "I'm sure no one probably knew I was going to be a starter, not even myself. I just wanted to get better in practice each day. The predictions, there were no predictions. I just knew what I wanted to do and I just tried to make it happen."

Smith is just one of many success stories for first-year starters on this OSU defense, a unit that returned just two starters from last year.

"We were never in question (internally)," Smith said. "A lot of outsiders were in question about our ability and our talent. As a defense, we knew we had a lot of talent and a lot of young guys. We just practiced hard throughout the summer camp and tried to jell and come together as a unit. We have just played together with every guy doing their job and fulfilling their responsibilities.

"We weren't trying to prove anybody wrong or anything like that. We just knew what we needed to do as a unit and as a team to put ourselves in position to be a good defense and be the best defense we can be."

OSU coach Jim Tressel said he was proud of the way Smith has delivered for the Buckeyes this fall.

"It's a great reminder of when people believe what they can accomplish," Tressel said. "That's because if you would have told me two years ago that Antonio Smith would be starting, I'd have said, ‘Oh, boy, I respect your football intellect, but I can't agree.'

"If you'd have told me that this August, I'd have said, ‘You know, I'm not sure.' But he believed he could play to that level, and that's what's most important. And it wasn't that anyone disbelieved, but I don't know that anyone was sure. But he was. And that's just the way he is. He's sure he will he'll have that mechanical engineering degree, whether he needs to study until 4 in the morning, but he's going to get it."

Tressel told the media about one of Smith's goals as a Buckeye.

"I remember this spring, we were done with a meeting and I said, ‘Anything else, Antonio, you'd like to talk about?' Tressel said.

"And he said, ‘You know what one of my goals would be is to be in the starting lineup on what is it, Madden or something, whatever the video game is.'

"I said, ‘Well, I don't know if I can help you with that, because they've never called me and asked me who should be starting on their video game,' but that's the kind of visualization that he has. He just has belief in goals and things that he wants to do and the fact that he's a finalist for the Thorpe Award is a testament to his production, because I'm sure he was not on anyone's watch list. But he produced, and obviously someone noticed him."

Smith beamed with pride when his video game dream was discussed: "It came out in the summer and I'm on there," he said.

Smith was asked if he ever gets to play the game with OSU's No. 14 at corner.

"I don't really play too much," he said. "I'm an engineering major. I really don't have too much time to play games."

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