Bittersweet Homecoming

When he arrived at the Rose Bowl last season, it was a Homecoming for Devin Smith, who grew up running laps around the historic venue. This year, his feelings were the same, but the big difference was that his left foot was in a walking cast.

LOS ANGELES - Through one full game and the start of a second, senior cornerback Devin Smith looked like a man pushing himself and his teammates to get back to Pasadena. Winning the starting job out of camp, Smith made six tackles in the season opener and added a tackle and an athletic pass deflection to his total.

But as linebacker Mike Tackle went to make a tackle attempt on a receiver running a crossing route, Taylor's momentum on a low tackle attempt carried the two players into Smith and his left foot.

"I heard it crack," Smith said. "The whole crowd noise went away and I heard it, and I knew it wasn't good."

Smith knew it was bad, but didn't know it was going to be as bad as it ended up being. Suffering a split in the metatarsal bones in his foot and tearing ligaments in the process, Smith had surgery two days after the break and started on his 4-to-6 month rehabilitation.

It would have ended his career had he not called his dad for some fatherly advice four years earlier.

"I was going slow the first couple weeks and the coaches were thinking of redshirting me, but I had a couple good practices where they thought about having me as a backup with Antonio Fenelus," Smith said of his first fall camp. "I called my dad and asked him what I should do and he told me to hold on to my redshirt because you never know what could happen."

The men in Smith's extended family have always seemed to set up him for football success. When he was in third grade, Smith went out to visit his uncle and grandfather in Pasadena for the first time, a trip that planted the seed for many returns.

As he started growing as a football player, Smith would travel to Pasadena and work out with his uncle. Smith would get up at 6 a.m. during the summer and make the three-mile run with his uncle around the stadium, even going so far as to do jump ropes in the parking lot.

After playing last season in the loss to No.3 TCU, Smith's trip this year is more of the sightseeing kind, as he will continue to nurse his broken foot and watch from the sidelines when No.9 Wisconsin plays No.6 Oregon in the 98th Rose Bowl Monday.

"I didn't expect to be going again and not playing," said Smith. "Things happen. Everything happens for a reason. I am happy that we're going back and are getting an opportunity to redeem ourselves from last year. I just wish I was going to be out there."

Smith, who will return next season as a fifth-year senior, will have a second surgery on January 23 to remove the screw in his foot and will be able to tentatively start walking with a normal shoe the first week of February. He's hopeful that he will be able to do light work during spring football and be full speed by the start of summer conditioning.

Like defensive teammates Chris Borland and Aaron Henry, Smith used the misfortunate of a season-ending injury to study film, study trends and learn things on the sidelines from a different point of view.

"It's different from actually just redshirting your freshman year and going out and playing four years," Smith said. "I've had the experience of playing, so I can build on that and be able to have the opportunity to play next year with a lot better understandings of the game.

"I don't think I am going to miss a stride at all. I am going to be here all summer and am going to take time to get back."

Smith has taken a backseat the majority of bowl preparations, but doesn't bite his tongue when mentioning to the younger players how special the opportunity his team has in front of them and how important it is to take advantage of every opportunity. Should anyone question him, all he has to do is point to his foot or say how he would give anything to drop everything and jog the familiar three miles around the Rose Bowl again.

Who knows? Perhaps he'll get that opportunity again next year.

"As long as we are successful, I am happy regardless," Smith said. "It's definitely the goal to win this year and to make it back next year. Making it here is always the goal and to do it two years in a row is really special."

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