Note: The following appears in the Wofford gameday football program.
Chad Smith is one of the few Tigers on the 2019 roster who has seen the transformation of the past five years all the way through. He saw his team go from one national championship to three. From redshirt to special teams to defensive starter, his journey has not been easy, but it has been worth it.
The fifth-year linebacker from Sterling, Va. decided on Clemson after seeing the culture that was being built. The emphasis on personal development and character made it the obvious choice.
“The culture that they were building here was different. It was so special. It’s family-centered. They are developing you to be the best player you can be while developing you to be the best man you can be. That is what separated Clemson and this whole program from all the others.”
Smith came to Clemson before the two most-recent national titles, five consecutive CFP appearances and five ACC championships. He has the unique experience of seeing the team’s culture change from 2015 to now.
“It’s incredible to be a part of our success,” said Smith, one of four Tigers on the 2019 team who was a member of the 2015 squad. “Players come here and buy into what the coaches teach. Everyone recognizes the intangibles needed to be a successful player and create a successful program.”
Smith saw that something special was about to happen here, and he knew he could play a role in that. However, that role would change throughout his time. Smith redshirted his freshman year. He then became a key contributor on special teams the next three seasons, also serving as a backup linebacker. Smith used this waiting period to grow stronger, both mentally and physically.
“It had its challenges, but I accepted my role. I like to think of myself as a team-first guy. I learned to accept my role, do it to the best of my ability and be patient. I knew my time was going to come.”
Smith summed up this challenging journey in one word…persistence. He worked hard, trusted the process and harnessed every opportunity given to him while he patiently waited his turn. Through it all, the tenacious Tiger firmly believed that God had a plan for him. Smith knew his time would come…and it did.
He distinctly recalled a conversation with B.J. Goodson during his freshman year. Goodson, who currently plays for the Green Bay Packers, also redshirted and played his fifth year at Clemson in 2015.
“I asked him, ‘B.J., how did you make it to five years? Time is going by so slowly. This is tough.’ He told me, ‘Don’t worry about it. Before you know it, you’ll wake up and be in my shoes.’ Lo and behold, I blinked my eyes, and here I am.”
In his final season, Smith is now a defensive starter. He started the year strong and is taking full advantage of his opportunity. He had his first career interception against Florida State and had a hand in the game-winning stop of the two-point conversion attempt at North Carolina. He later earned Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP honors in Clemson’s 29-23 win over No. 2 Ohio State. Through it all, he remains humble yet confident in his abilities.
“I knew I was capable of performing very well. I owe that to my teammates and coaches for trusting me and helping me prepare each and every week. I go out, let loose and play strong within the confines of the defense. I’m executing, doing my job and letting everything else fall into place.”
After losing veteran leaders on defense from the 2018 squad, Smith has also stepped up in the locker room.
“The leadership on this team is really strong, but it’s a lot different than last year. We are a lot younger, but we have great leadership across the board. It’s great to see all the guys come together and lead these young players.”
Smith has been able to do it all alongside his best friend, roommate and fellow linebacker James Skalski. Together, they lead the defense and push each other to be the best they can be, both on and off the gridiron.
“We’re ultra-competitive and click really well. We motivate each other to go out every week and succeed on the field, in the weight room…wherever we are. We keep each other accountable.”
He credited P.A.W. Journey for most of his growth as a man the past five years. He is an ambassador for the leadership initiative, which emphasizes personal growth, life skills and professional development.
“They’ve helped develop qualities in me on and off the field that come out in my daily life. Whether it’s going to class, working out with the team or in a game, I’m trying to be the best version of myself. They’ve helped me reach out and network with people outside of football.”
Smith believes he is prepared for his future after this year, but that is not where his focus is. Right now, he is trying to soak up these last few months the best he can.
“I want to be great where my feet are. That’s where my attention and focus are. I want to maximize this opportunity that I have and these last few months that I have to be a part of this program. I want to be the best that I can be and help this team be the best it can be.”
After waiting his turn for four years, Smith is maximizing this opportunity that he has. He is leaving his mark on this team and leading it to be the best it can be. His patience and persistence have paid off.
Smith is showing everyone that the wait was worth it.