Tyreke Smith had been dealing with pain in his groin since high school, but he always played through it.
The Ohio State defensive end appeared in all 14 of the Buckeyes’ games as a true freshman last season, and tried to ignore that he was hurt. After realizing his injury was worsening during a workout this summer, however, Smith finally decided it was time to do something about it.
“I got a high pain tolerance, so I just thought I was being a little baby,” Smith said while meeting with the media on Wednesday. “I tried to keep going through it, tried to keep playing through it, thought my leg was just hurting. But I finally told the doctor I needed to do something about it.”
Smith underwent surgery on his groin on June 13, and was cleared to return to practice in time for the start of preseason camp in August. He remained limited throughout camp as he worked his way back to 100 percent, though, and was held out of the Buckeyes’ season opener against FAU two Saturdays ago because of the injury.
“I was ready to play, but just Coach didn’t want to play me in that game,” Smith said. “If they needed me, I would have played and same with Tyler (Friday, who also missed the season opener with an undisclosed injury) but we didn’t have to play so that was good for us.”
“I got a high pain tolerance, so I just thought I was being a little baby.” – Ohio State defensive end Tyreke Smith on playing through a groin injury in 2018
Smith returned to the field this past Saturday against Cincinnati, and made it clear that he was fully healthy when he blew by Bearcats right tackle Chris Ferguson to bury Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder for a 7-yard sack – the first sack of Smith’s Ohio State career – in the second quarter.
Two plays later, Smith also made a key run stop two yards short of the first-down marker on 3rd-and-4, leading to a blocked field goal by fellow Ohio State defensive end Chase Young on the next play.
After recording no sacks in 2018, when he played 183 snaps as a backup defensive end and situational pass-rushing tackle for the Buckeyes, Smith was ready to get his first quarterback takedown under his belt.
“That felt good,” Smith said. “Just all the work I put in and stuff like that, getting off my injury, going hard so yeah, I felt good.”
Smith didn’t start in Saturday’s game, but he played the second-most snaps of any defensive end (21) and was named as a champion for the game. He’s expected to be a key player in the Buckeyes’ defensive end rotation all season long, even with Jonathon Cooper – who has missed the first two games of the season with an injury of his own – likely to return to the starting lineup opposite Young once he is healthy.
Saturday was the first real flash of how good Smith, the No. 34 overall prospect in the entire recruiting class of 2018, has the potential to be for the Buckeyes now that he is healthy and has a year of experience under his belt. But he believes he’s still only scratching the surface of the player he could be under defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s tutelage.
“He’s pushing me past my limit, and that’s what I like,” Smith said. “I’m a person that pushes myself. I’m never satisfied. Everything has to be a step more. I’m kind of a perfectionist in a way, and Coach J’s almost in the same way. He always thinks that we can get better. If we do something good, he thinks we can do it great.
“I think the sky’s the limit for me. I can do a lot of things, I can be a force.”
To become the next great Ohio State defensive end, Smith has big shoes to fill. Young is arguably the best defensive end in college football right now, and before him, Nick and Joey Bosa could make the same claim. But Smith isn’t one to set his goals low.
“I want to be the best D-end that comes out of here, and that’s my personal goal,” Smith said. “I know I’m with the best coach, and I got my teammates around me that are going to get me better. I got people like Nick, Chase and everybody to push me and set the bar.”
Young is among Smith’s Ohio State teammates who are expecting big things from him, too.
“He’s going to keep putting on display how great he is,” Young said after Saturday’s game. “He’s working every day to be the best player he can be. He’s going to be real good.”