Better Know a Buckeye: Will Smith Jr. Looks to Continue His Father’s Legacy on Ohio State’s Defensive Line

By Josh Poloha on May 25, 2023 at 10:10 am
Will Smith Jr.

Better Know A Buckeye is our look at every member of Ohio State’s 2023 recruiting class and how they became Buckeyes as they prepare to begin their OSU careers this fall.

Will Smith Jr. was destined to be a Buckeye.

The son of the late, great Will Smith, the younger Smith grew up in Dublin, Ohio, rooting for the Buckeyes and attending a countless number of Ohio State games.

Ranked as the No. 31 defensive lineman (No. 244 overall) in the 2023 class, Smith was Ohio State’s first defensive line commitment in his recruiting cycle.

Will Smith Jr.

  • Size: 6-3/290
  • Position: DT
  • School: Coffman (Dublin, Ohio)
  • 247 Composite: ★★★★
  • Composite Rank: #31 DL
  • Overall Rank: #244

How He Became A Buckeye

Smith attended many Ohio State games throughout his childhood, but attending the game as a fan is different than going to one as a recruit. After going to multiple camps on campus, the Buckeye legacy was invited to attend the game against Maryland on Oct. 9, 2021, his first OSU game as a recruit.

It was on that visit that Ryan Day, Larry Johnson and company told Smith that they wanted him to add 10-15 pounds to his frame by the start of his senior year because they saw him as a defensive tackle at the next level.

Three months later, after putting on 10 pounds of muscle, Smith earned the offer he had been waiting for all along.

“It meant so much to get this offer,” Smith told Eleven Warriors. “I’m still letting it sink in. It’s surreal.”

Nine days after that, Smith committed to the Buckeyes, following in his dad's footsteps in a move that seemed inevitable.

“It means so much,” Smith said. “I wish he could be here to see it, but I know he would be so happy and proud.”

Now, he has the opportunity to create highlights of his own while donning the scarlet and gray, the same way his dad did as a former team captain, four-year letterwinner, All-American, Defensive Player of the Year and national champion more than 20 years ago.

High School Years

Smith had his best year at Dublin Coffman as a senior after bulking up and moving inside to defensive tackle. In his final high school season, Smith recorded 47 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and five sacks. As a result, he rose nearly 300 spots in 247Sports’ composite rankings.

Smith attended every Ohio State camp throughout the summer leading up to his senior season in order to learn everything he could from Larry Johnson, and that work paid off on the field.

“I feel like I've learned so much,” Smith said after his first game of the year. “It's helped me so much from last season to this season.”

As a junior, he was a Division I state qualifier in the shot put, proving the type of strength he had even before gaining even more muscle. On the football field, he showed an explosive burst for someone with his size and length along with sharp football instincts and awareness.

“I would say my quickness off the ball and my pursuit to the ball,” Smith said when asked to describe his strongest on-field attribute.

Immediate Impact

A four-star prospect, Smith knows he must continue to build muscle and fine-tune his game now that he is a full-time defensive tackle. He weighed 260 pounds when he earned an OSU offer in Jan. 2022, which increased to 268 last June. As an early enrollee, Smith is already up to 290.

“(Ohio State’s coaches) know I have a lot of growth left in me as far as development,” Smith said. “I know the coaches like my motor and how hard I work in a game.”

With that, and considering the two-deep at defensive tackle is completely full, Smith's first season in Columbus will be one for development and likely a redshirt year as he continues to learn and grow under Johnson.

Long-Term Impact

Smith already sheds blocks with ease and never gives up on a play, sometimes chasing down running backs from behind to make a tackle. That said, he has to continue to develop his technique. If he does that, he could find some playing time at defensive tackle as a sophomore, especially if Michael Hall Jr. and/or Tyleik Williams forgo their senior years and declare for the 2024 NFL draft.

Long-term, Smith could become a dynamic and disruptive 3-technique defensive tackle as long as he maintains his athleticism while continuing to develop his body.

Player Comparison: Haskell Garrett

While it's almost certain that Smith wants to become a dominant defensive tackle the same way his dad was an elite defensive end, those expectations are too high for the younger Smith as he begins his career.

With that, Garrett's OSU career could be a good blueprint for Smith to follow. In his first two seasons as a Buckeye, Garrett recorded only 10 tackles as a backup defensive tackle. In his final two years at Ohio State, Garrett totaled 42 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, four pass deflections and an interception for a touchdown, earning first-team All-American honors in 2020 and first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2021.

Smith might not be an immediate star for the Buckeyes, but he has the tools and work ethic to develop into a highly productive player by the end of his Ohio State career as Garrett did.

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