For the first time since arriving on campus in 2014, Erick Smith is finally making in impact in the Ohio State secondary.
Since becoming a Buckeye, Smith has suffered an ACL injury and been buried on the depth chart behind three future NFL safeties in Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Malik Hooker.
Now though, in his senior season, Smith is finally getting a chance to show what he can do in a Buckeye uniform. After a subpar showing in a 31-16 loss to Oklahoma, Smith rebounded against Army, earning his first start and collecting nine tackles.
In addition, Smith prevented a pair of would-be Army touchdowns in front of a home crowd of more than 108,000, an opportunity he said was almost a surreal experience.
"I can't really describe the feeling, you know? Being able to play in front of all of those fans, it is a wonderful feeling," Smith said.
Smith's two plays came on a deflected pass that looked destined for a touchdown (below) and a shoe-string tackle that prevented a long Black Knight kick return from going the distance.
The last-second deflection of the pass almost looked reminiscent of plays Hooker made a year ago in the Buckeye backfield. Smith is hoping his career path, however will follow that of another former teammate now playing at the next level.
Much like Smith, Marshon Lattimore dealt with injuries early in his Ohio State career and was buried behind future NFL draft selections Doran Grant and Eli Apple. Lattimore, also like Smith, came to Columbus in the same recruiting class and from the same high school program at Cleveland Glenville.
"Marshon went through the same process," Smith said. "You just have to take things day-by-day. You see what he is doing now. I try to keep the same mindset and take it day-by-day and not let things overwhelm me."
Also like Lattimore, Smith is not on the field every play as he continues to rotate with Jordan Fuller at safety. The rotation is not something Smith seems to mind, especially since Ohio State has the talent to where it could probably rotate more in the secondary than it already does.
"We have four or five legit safeties, so us doing a rotation is not problematic in the room," Smith said. "We know whichever guy goes out there can play. When I am on the sideline, I know Jordan and Damon (Webb) are going to do the same thing. You act like you're in a game and take mental reps."
Despite finally getting his chance to shine, Smith largely downplayed his touchdown-saving plays against Army when speaking to the media Tuesday evening.
"I was just simply doing my job," he said of his defense against Army. "That's my job. I'm the safety."