Will Smith Jr. had waited for Wednesday’s moment to arrive his entire life.
The four-star defensive tackle put his pen to paper Wednesday to ink his National Letter of Intent with Ohio State, knowing that he’d soon don the uniform once worn by his late father, former Ohio State defensive end Will Smith.
The hometown hero is ready to take on the mantle and continue the legacy. A buckeye through and through, the pride of Dublin is raring to get after opposing QBs. Welcome to The Brotherhood Will Smith Jr.#CHO23N |@iwillsmithjr pic.twitter.com/pEElfKVSsJ— Ohio State Football (@OhioStateFB) December 21, 2022
“It feels good,” Smith said of his commitment at his signing day ceremony. “I’m glad to do it. I’m glad to be here and ready to go.”
When the 6-foot-3, 268-pound defensive lineman officially became a Buckeye Wednesday, he took care of two goals in the same fell swoop.
First and foremost, playing for the scarlet and gray runs in his family’s blood, and Smith will now have the chance to build upon his father’s legacy. The elder Smith is still considered a Buckeye legend to this day as he recorded 167 total tackles, 46.5 tackles for loss and 23 sacks at Ohio State before going on to a nine-year NFL career with the New Orleans Saints.
“We know the story with his dad,” Ryan Day said of Smith at OSU’s signing day press conference. “And so does that matter? Yeah, it does, actually.”
While his father’s legacy will live on in Smith, that still left the Ohio product with a second goal to cross off his list. A relentless worker, Smith was determined to make sure he earned his OSU scholarship on his own merit, not on his father’s name.
“That wasn't gonna be the reason why we're gonna offer him a scholarship,” Day said. “We saw that motor in his junior film. But we sat down and explained to him what the expectation was if he came here. These are the things that we expect of you to be a Buckeye. And some of those things he and his mom and his family already knew, because they had a perspective on that, certainly with his dad's background.”
When Smith met with OSU defensive line coach Larry Johnson in October 2021 for a heart-to-heart, he stood at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. Johnson told him he’d need to get to 260 before OSU would feel comfortable offering him. By January, Smith had reached his goal, and was offered by the Buckeyes on Jan. 14. He committed to the Buckeyes only nine days later. He didn’t need long to make his decision.
“I think it was, for sure,” Smith said regarding whether committing to OSU was an easy choice. “Yeah ... It was the legacy part and going there and meeting everybody. I just really liked the atmosphere there.”
After earning the offer, Smith didn’t stop working to improve his craft. By June, he weighed 268 pounds and attended nearly every Ohio State recruiting camp over the summer to have an opportunity to get in work with Johnson as often as he could.
“The pass rush was the big thing,” Smith said of what he learned from Johnson over the summer. “He really helped me there. And then my get off — that really, really improved. I feel like I had more football IQ from going to those things and that’s what really helped me speed up my play.”
In his senior season at Dublin Coffman, Smith earned All-Ohio Division I first-team honors after he racked up 47 tackles (14 for loss) and five sacks en route to leading his team to a 7-4 record.
“It was I guess it was a little bit of a risk early on because we didn't we didn't quite know for sure (if Smith was an Ohio State-caliber player),” Day said. “But he and his mom quite honestly asked, ‘Is he really good enough to be a Buckeye?’ And we said, ‘If he does these things, we absolutely think he is.’ It's a no-brainer now.
“I mean, the way that he played this season, he played hard, he played physical, played with his hair on fire and just had a lot of production. So he's coming in early and we think he has a chance to be a very, very good player for us.”
Smith is set to be an early enrollee at OSU, starting classes on Jan. 9. Similar to a year ago, Smith is determined to put on weight and contribute to the Buckeyes as soon as he can, but this time he’ll have the benefit of being in a collegiate strength training program.
“They want me as a three-technique, and they want me to be 285 (pounds), somewhere around there,” Smith said. “That’s really it. I’ve just been lifting, getting stronger, getting more conditioned and trying to get faster.”
As he ventures off to college in a few weeks, Smith won’t have to stray very far from home.
“I think it will be a big help,” Smith said of having family close by. “I’m really glad that my mom will be just 20 minutes away. If I have a problem, I can just go to her.”