There was no question of where he wanted to be.
When three-star defensive tackle Will Smith Jr. took two game visits to Ohio State this fall, he was invited into a room with the current Buckeye players to watch a hype video before OSU took the field at Ohio Stadium. One of the players featured in that video was the late Will Smith, Smith Jr.’s father and a former Ohio State captain. It gave the younger Smith chills to see highlights of his father still featured at Ohio Stadium. It now won’t be long until Smith Jr. has the opportunity to create some highlights of his own.
Smith Jr. gave his verbal commitment to Ryan Day and defensive line coach Larry Johnson during an unofficial visit Saturday, then announced his commitment publicly Sunday evening.
“I told Coach Day and Coach Johnson that I want to be a Buckeye (on Saturday),” Smith Jr. told Eleven Warriors. “They were both really excited and happy.”
Smith Jr. grew up in Dublin, about 15 minutes from Ohio State’s campus. Columbus has always been home for him, so he won’t mind sticking around for another four years after he graduates from Dublin Coffman High School.
“I’m glad I’m going to be close to home,” Smith Jr. said. “I like to have my friends and family at my high school games so to be able to have them easily come to college games is going to be really special. I can’t wait to be able to play for the best coaches at the best football program at the best school in the country.”
Smith Jr.’s recruitment is now over, and considering his legacy status, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for any other school to try and flip him between now and the early signing period in December. But Smith Jr. has had discussions with his mother and Ohio State on what the best step for his development is moving forward. The 6-foot-3, 260-pound standout has the credits necessary to enroll early at Ohio State next January, but he’s still debating if that’s the right move for him.
“(OSU coaches) know I have a lot of growth left in me as far as development,” Smith Jr. said. “I’m on the younger side for my grade so I’m not sure about enrolling early. We talked about it a little bit but haven’t made any set plans. They just really want me to continue to develop at the same rate that I have been. I’m going to keep working hard in the offseason with lifting and outside training and film study. I want to do every extra thing I can to prepare for my senior season and then get to the best possible place before going into college. … I have the credits to enroll early but need to talk that over with my mom more.”
On the Field
Smith Jr. really came into his own on the field throughout his junior year, but perhaps even moreso in weight training and conditioning. He has added about 15 pounds of muscle since the summer, something Johnson and Ohio State said they needed to see before they were comfortable offering him.
The Dublin Coffman standout rotated between defensive end and defensive tackle last season, but Johnson and OSU see him more as a defensive tackle than they do a defensive end. Smith Jr. has an explosive burst for someone his size and has sharp football instincts and awareness. His length creates problems for Ohio prep linemen, and he has the frame to continue to grow in size at the next level.
“I know the coaches like my motor and how hard I work in a game,” Smith Jr. said. “My get-off and twitch. I think right now my biggest strength is my quickness at my size. I am around 260 now and I am working hard to get even quicker even while I’m putting on weight, which I’ve been able to do in training so far.”
Smith Jr. sheds blocks with relative ease and never gives up on a play, sometimes chasing down running backs from behind to make a tackle. But as Smith Jr. has already acknowledged, he has a lot of growth remaining in his development and technique, and therefore will probably not make an immediate impact on the field until at least his second year in the program.
In the Class
Smith Jr. becomes the fourth recruit to commit to OSU in the 2023 cycle, joining Joshua Padilla, Ty Lockwood and Cedrick Hawkins. Smith is the second in-state commit in the cycle thus far along with Padilla.
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound standout is the first defensive lineman to commit to Ohio State’s recruiting class of 2023. That’s a stark difference from the 2022 class, in which Ohio State didn’t land a defensive lineman until Kenyatta Jackson Jr. committed in mid-October (though the Buckeyes now have four 2022 signees/commits on the defensive line).
Smith Jr. picked the Buckeyes over offers from Ball State, Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Kentucky, Marshall, Miami (Ohio), Northwestern, Pittsburgh, Toledo and West Virginia.