The Making of a Man: How Greek life, maturity, and lessons learned helped Shaq Smith
|Friday, March 8, 2019, 7:01 AM- -|
CLEMSON – “Things don’t always come when you want it, but they always come on time.”
Clemson linebacker Shaq Smith said those words to me two years ago as Clemson prepared to take on Alabama in the National Championship Game in Tampa, Fla. Smith redshirted the 2016 season and was looking forward to grabbing playing time in 2017 but playing time didn’t come immediately.
There were struggles. There were moments of doubt. Through it all, Smith persevered and stuck it out. Playing time might not be there when he wanted it, but it would be on time.
In the interim, Smith learned from watching the older players. He had conversations deep in the night with former roommate Kelly Bryant. He joined a Greek organization on campus that helped him focus his energies on others. Most importantly, he matured along the way.
Smith committed to Clemson at the Under Armour Game in Orlando in early January of 2016. An early enrollee, many predicted the former 5-star would have instant stardom. Instead, he redshirted. In 2017, he logged just 73 snaps over 13 games and doubled that output in 2018 with 140 snaps over 15 games.
It was all a maturing process.
“I definitely think it (not playing) was me having to learn and mature. In high school, when you're big, you just dominate everybody by your speed and your size,” Smith told TigerNet. “Growing up, I was popped around to a lot of different schools and a lot of different coaches. So I never really had one base to learn. I was just here one year and learn this and the next year you learn this. So being here under Coach Venables, to learn one system is not as easy as it seems. I feel like it came from me needing to learn to mature.”
Instead of pouting, Smith worked to make himself a better player and a better person. That led to his joining the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity on campus. It was an eye-opener.
“The biggest thing for me is to let the community know that I am more than just an athlete,” Smith said. “I am somebody outside of football, and when I am outside of football I represent my fraternity and we do a lot of community service and work with kids and give back. I feel like going to an organization that is bigger than me that I can be a part of can help change the world.
“Nobody in my family was Greek, and they don't know much about that type of life, When I got here I saw them on campus and saw the things they were doing all around campus. My former roommate, Kelly (Bryant), him and Shadell (Bell) we all talked about it and did our research on it and we all agreed on the same things - we all wanted to be known as more than football players and wanted to be in the community.”
Smith says he wants young men to realize that they can be more than just an athlete, and he wants to be seen as more than just a football player. It’s a big message for kids from the area where he grew up.
“Big is an understatement for that, I don't want to just show that here,” Smith said. “I want to show that on a national level, I want to show that to the kids back where I am from in Baltimore City where all they see are guns and drugs and violence. You are more prone to follow that role when that is all you see. Me being a guy that comes from the heart of that city and making a difference, I feel like me joining this fraternity is showing that I can be more than just a football player. I can be more than just a guy that can come in here and tackle somebody. I can also give back to the people who once gave to me and point to those people and show them the same things that people once showed me.”
Smith’s lessons continued last season when Bryant, his best friend and roommate, lost the starting job to Trevor Lawrence and elected to leave the program.
“That was a very tough situation, probably the toughest situation since I've been here and I wasn't really a part of it. That is my brother and my roommate and one of the first guys I met when I got on campus,” Smith said of Bryant. “We had grown so close. You have a guy who is all about team and a guy who waited his turn and did so many great things for the team. Just to see him go through that situation and to see how hard it was for him, we sat down a lot of nights and talked about his future. But in that same situation, Trevor didn't do anything wrong.
“He didn't have any hate towards Trevor. I made sure that when I talked to Kelly I told him to reach out to Trevor and let him know that it's all love. Trevor was a guy we had to rally around. I had my situation with Kelly and we talked about it, but I made sure the guys on the team rallied around Trevor because he was the guy we had to lean on.”
“In the offseason, one of the biggest things I did was take a look at myself. I had a cut-up of every single play I played in last year and I went through it and I wrote notes to myself on things I need to work on,” he said. “I sat down with my dad and he watched it, too, and he told me the things he thought I needed to work on. Playing downhill and attacking guys were two of the biggest things we both thought I needed to work on and we both felt like that will come from confidence and knowing the playbook and knowing exactly what I am supposed to do. I feel like this is the most confident I've been since I've been here and it's allowed me to play more free and more downhill.”
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables and head coach Dabo Swinney have said that Smith is a natural leader and will be counted on this season to provide leadership for a young team. For Smith, it’s just another challenge and a chance to show off his maturity.
He’s also excited about the opportunity to earn significant snaps on the field.
“Exciting is an understatement for me, I am going on year four and I've been around some great guys. I've been here since Ben Boulware and Dorian (O'Daniel) and Kendall (Joseph) and JD (Davis) and Tre (Lamar),” Smith said. “All are great guys and all are great leaders and all are great players. So to be able to sit behind those guys, watch those guys lead, you know, watch those guys, even the front four like Christian (Wilkins) and Clelin (Ferrell) and all of those guys - to watch them, to see them and how they love their teammates or how they work and how they helped take this team to the top.
“And now it's a chance for me to be in the exact same role. It's a great feeling because I feel like I've had great examples since I've been here and for it to be my time is a great feeling. I feel like I have natural leadership ability, and after watching the guys who have been great leaders that came before me and taking some basic pieces from them I feel like helps me in that leadership role. And I feel like I have a lot of respect from the guys on my team. To be a great leader, you have to be a great follower and I’ve always been a follower.”
Now, it’s his time to lead. Maybe not when he wanted it, but it came on time.