Smith a Mid on the move Weak safety's strengths go on display in Atlanta

November 23, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- A few minutes after Navy qualified for a bowl bid by whipping Tulane in Annapolis last Saturday, junior safety Rashad Smith embraced senior linebacker and co-captain Clint Bruce.

"I don't know if Clint remembers or not," a tearful Smith explained to reporters, "but when I was a freshman, he took me under his wing and said, 'I know you've got it in you.' I just wanted to help win this game for him."

In fact, the unheralded Smith has played a major role in most of Navy's seven victories this season, a feat the Midshipmen had not achieved since 1981.

The native of Conroy, Ga., who returns home to face Georgia Tech today, has come up with a turnover in five of the Mids' nine games.

Smith, who played sparingly behind safeties Andrew Thompson PTC and Joe Speed his first two years, proved he was ready to start in this season's opener against Rutgers when he was credited with 11 tackles and an end zone interception that killed a fourth-quarter drive in a 10-6 victory.

The following week, in a 19-17 squeaker over Southern Methodist, he recovered a fumble and made five solo tackles. In a record, 64-27 rout of Duke, he turned an interception into a 21-yard touchdown sprint.

Smith was even busier in the 47-18 blowout of Wake Forest, recording a sack, causing one fumble and recovering another. Last week against Tulane, he had another interception and tossed full back Jerald Sewell for a critical fourth-quarter loss.

"Rashad is a real game-day player," said safeties coach Dale Pehrson. "He had very little experience, so each game you can see the improvement.

"Playing weak safety, he probably has more to do than any of our secondary. He is kind of a cross between a linebacker and defensive back. He has to blitz, stop the run and cover receivers. He's got to be a jack-of-all-trades, and, being a great athlete, he's done the job."

Smith admits he grew frustrated and a bit impatient waiting his turn his first two years. He was restricted to special teams, assigned to breaking up the wedge on kick returns.

As a freshman, he auditioned as a cornerback, but then-head coach George Chaump considered him too slow. But his current coach, Charlie Weatherbie, believes Smith is perfectly suited to play weak safety.

"People have a hard time blocking Rashad," Weatherbie said. "He's quick, and has a real nose for the ball. And if you're in his path, he'll likely knock you on your butt."

Playing against Georgia Tech this week will be a special occasion for Smith, who needed 30 tickets to accommodate his family and friends from Conley, a suburb of Atlanta.

"As a teen-ager, I dreamed of playing for Georgia Tech, especially after they won the national title in 1990," he said. "They had people talk to me after I made All-County my senior year, but it never got serious."

He was prepared to play at Tennessee Tech when former Navy backfield coach Frank Hickson paid a visit.

"He really sold me on the academy," Smith recalled.

"I had two uncles who were marines and my grandfather was in the Army, but that was as far as my military background goes."

After a year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School, Smith has grown comfortable with the military regimen and his future five-year service commitment. But he plays like a man in a hurry.

"After sitting those first two years, I'm trying not to waste any time on the field," he said.

Pub Date: 11/23/96

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