Darnell Smith Doesn't Need Recognition

Darnell Smith hears and reads what people are saying as he prepares to enter his final year as a member of the Oklahoma State football program. The fifth-year senior knows the so-called experts are saying that Ryan McBean, Victor DeGrate, Rodrick Johnson and Andre Sexton are going to be the big playmakers for the Cowboy defense this season.

That doesn't bother Smith. As a matter of fact, the Cowboy defensive lineman prefers that the spotlight shine on the McBeans, DeGrates, Johnsons and Sextons of the OSU Nation. But Smith has started more games the past two seasons than every player listed on the defensive depth chart except DeGrate (both Smith and DeGrate have started 12 games). And there are only a handful of Cowboy defenders who have been present for postseason trips to the Alamo Bowl (2004), Cotton Bowl (2003) and Houston Bowl (2002), and Smith is one of those players.

The 6-1, 260-pound senior is the most versatile defensive linemen on the Cowboy roster. One series he may be lining up at defensive end, and the next he could be at defensive tackle. That may be one reason he doesn't receive the recognition from members of the media like McBean or DeGrate.

"My role on this team is just to be a team player," said Smith, who is scheduled to start at left end when OSU opens the season Saturday night against Missouri State at Boone Pickens Stadium. "If I get recognized, I get recognized. I'm not trying to look for the spotlight or anything. My main goal is to help the team out as much as possible. If I gain any recognition that's great."

Smith and the Cowboy defensive linemen are looking forward to Saturday night's game – not just because it's the season opener but also because they will get to introduce a Division I-AA quarterback (either sophomore transfer Garrett Congdon or redshirt freshman Matt Krapfl, neither of whom have ever completed a pass in college) to major college football.

""We are licking our chops because we understand that it's going to be a new quarterback coming in for Missouri State, but the other thing you have got to recognize is that they're on scholarship too -- just like we're on scholarship. Just because Missouri State's a Division I-AA school doesn't make a difference," Smith said. "But any team that comes into our home, we're licking our chops because we study and watch enough film to understand the schemes and what they're doing.

"Knowing they've got new quarterbacks coming in is an added advantage because they really don't understand how fast we are coming off the defensive line. I mean people like Ryan McBean, who is an athlete who can play defensive end or inside; Victor DeGrate, who can play linebacker or defensive end; Nathan Peterson, probably our most prolific pass rushers, (and) Marque Fountain's back ... everybody is just ready to get after it," Smith continued.

Smith started just three games last season – all at defensive end – and earned the starting position at left end this fall. But the Cowboys have plenty of depth on the defensive line, with DeGrate, Peterson and Fountain all expecting to get their share of playing time at defensive end, and McBean, Larry Brown, Xavier Lawson-Kennedy and Jeray Chatham on the inside.

"The thing that's different (from last year's defense which allowed more than 31 points and 420 yards per game) is for one, last year with the death of our teammate (Vernon Grant), it's kinda different now. Last year we were trying to play for him, and there were a lot of things that affected the season from the beginning last year, and a lot of things that we had to overcome," Smith said. "This year we're more focused and we're determined. The front four on the defensive line are all seniors, our offense has a year under their belt, everybody understands what (Mike) Gundy wants and everybody understands what (Vance) Bedford wants. So having a year of experience really shows a lot for our team. It shows a maturity."

That's one thing that Smith, a three-time Academic All-Big 12 selection, brings to the team, says Gundy. "(Darnell) is reliable, plays hard, (and) been out there in the battles. You can't get enough guys like that because of the experience they bring into a game, as compared to a (Jeremy) Nethon or Alex Odiari, who is going to be playing but doesn't have that experience," the Cowboy head coach said. "He's not as talented as some of those other guys (like DeGrate and Peterson), but he's a guy that's just going to play hard every single down and push it."

Smith doesn't think Cowboy fans will recognize the defense when it takes the field against the Bears. "At the end of last year we were all flying around to the ball, but this year they're going to recognize that we're going to understand more of our assignments. That's really what we needed to focus on because being new to this system, even the upperclassmen, we still had to understand where we fit in., and what our gap assignments were, who covers who. But this year they should be able to see that we're more focused and alert on our assignments, and we should know who we need to pick up. And by doing that they shouldn't have the big plays (that we gave up a year ago)."

Then maybe people will be talking about Smith, even though he says it doesn't matter.

"I just take it one day at a time. I just thank God that I have the opportunity to be here because not many people can be here," said Smith. "I know that Nate gets mentioned a lot being from Oklahoma. Vic gets mentioned a lot (because) he did very well last year. Ryan McBean did very well last year. My role is I'm just a tough guy. If I have to go to the inside, I go inside; if I have to go outside, I got outside – wherever I can go to help the team get to that next level and a championship. That's what it's all about.

"I don't care too much about the spotlight because that's the type of person I am – a team player," he continued. "If I can give the spotlight to someone else that's exactly what I'm going to do. I'm going to take care of what I have to do on the field and I'm going to take care of what I have to do academically, because eventually somebody will notice. But I'm not going to try to put myself out there for them to notice me."

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