As we enter the off season, I thought about what I could write about to keep our fans interested. While it was covered by my colleagues, and many of you made comments about our departing seniors, I felt it best to take this week to pay tribute to a senior who signified the blue collar Boise State way during his career.
My first memory of Tommy Smith came his red shirt freshman year. It was a very cold afternoon and the Broncos hosted New Mexico State. Like most games against New Mexico State, they get out of hand. And this game was no exception. About 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter we emptied the benches on both sides of the ball. One person on the defensive side of the ball stood out to me more than any other, and that was #33. He was playing linebacker with the reserves in what many would term "garbage time." I detest that term because if a player considers it garbage time, perhaps he needs an attitude adjustment. It is an opportunity to do your job, to make your case for more playing time, to hit the snot out of somebody, it is a chance to show people what you as a player are made of. It is in my opinion, very valuable time. Think about this, if you are a 2nd team player, there is a chance that you are one play away from starting next week, if you are a 3rd team player, there is a chance that you are starting next year.
Tommy Smith had the mentality that he was out to do his job, even if the team was leading 42-7. I remember vividly the New Mexico State running back taking a simple zone play over the left side of the offensive line, and here comes Tommy Smith flying to the ball and made a great form tackle. Smith buried his face mask in the running back's chest, wrapped up, and took the player to the ground in one swift motion. My immediate reaction was, "who's Tommy Smith"? I looked at my roster and noticed he was only a freshman. I made a mental note that this might be a player to keep my eye on. He continued to fly around the field for the remainder of the game, and even made some tackles on kick off coverage that game. Those 10 minutes were not garbage time, in Tommy's mind, it was 0-0 when he came onto the field.
Smith's sophomore year brought more time on special teams. Our line backing corps consisted of : a trimmed down Byron Hout, Derrell Acrey, Daron Mackey, Aaron Tevis, and J.C. Percy. All of which were very talented, and capable linebackers in their own right. It wasn't that Smith couldn't cut it, his turn would come.
Approaching Smith's junior year BSU was to play the season opener in Atlanta, GA, Smith's hometown. Little did we know that Dan Paul would sit out the season with a groin injury, which left a void at the full back position. Smith was called upon to play full back while maintaining his role as a line backer. Smith did well, he was physical as a full back, and was physical as a line backer. The game against Georgia was Smith's coming out party. He was on the field a lot that game, and was invited by Coach Pete on the podium after the Georgia game. Smith's junior year featured more quality reps on the field and a more active role as a leader to the younger players on the team.
This past year we saw Smith become the starter on a BSU defense that stymied opponents and saved the day on more than one occasion. Smith's senior season he was 3rd on the team with 33 solo tackles and 28 assisted tackles. Smith's broken up pass keyed a turnover on downs against New Mexico which sealed the road victory for the Broncos.
What has made Tommy Smith more that a quality line backer? It all goes back to that game against New Mexico State his freshman year. He knew he was a ways down the depth chart, and he didn't see his playing time late in a decided game as "garbage time." He saw it as hitting time. Smith became an emotional leader on our defense and a guy who "paid his dues" in all the right ways. Smith did the little things. I never recall saying, "Well, If Tommy Smith would have broken down and kept his head up he would have made that tackle." Or, "Man Tommy Smith took a really bad angle on the play." Or, "Wow, If Tommy took the outside route through the blocker he would have forced the play inside." Never did I say any of those things. Those are "little things" that are crucial to a defensive player. Many times a player can make the play, and not make the tackle, and that was something Tommy was great at. He was more concerned with the team making the tackle, than he was his own stats. From my perspective, those things are intangible. I want guys on my team that do those little things. Take a good angle, force the play back inside, jam the tight end, be a leader, nurture the young guys. For those reasons, I will miss Tommy Smith. A player who always did the little things.