As a speedy, sledge-hammer of a linebacker, Robert Smith is just beginning to scratch the surface. This fall, the Guilford College sophomore solidified his reputation as a defensive terror in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.
In the process, the Winston-Salem native compiled some noteworthy numbers. He finished the season with 108 tackles (fourth in the conference) and was the ODAC co-leader in sacks with 6½.
At 6-feet-2, 230 pounds, Smith has the size to routinely deliver bone-crushing hits. And he’s also fast enough to go one-on-one against tight ends, slot receivers and running backs in pass coverage.
“Robert does everything we need for him to do in our defensive sets,” said Coach Chris Rusiewicz. “When he first came here, he was raw, but we could see that he had all the tools. We believed that by moving him to linebacker, he could be very successful at roaming the field and making plays. He’s very intelligent and knows our system. But just as important is the fact that he’s becoming more of a team leader.”
Smith, who played high school football at Reynolds, initially played safety as a freshman. But after missing two weeks of pre-season practice because of a knee sprain, Rusiewicz presented Smith with another option. He could either stay in the secondary, where he was not a starter, or he could give it a go at linebacker. The Quakers needed more speed at the position and Rusiewicz figured that Smith would be a good fit.
“At first, I was hesitant to make the change,” said Smith. “But in looking back on it, I can see why they made the suggestion. They knew it (switching to linebacker) would give me the best chance to be successful.”
Smith accepted the challenge and performed admirably. He finished up as the Quakers second-leading tackler (64) and was voted second-team All-Conference.
Guilford didn’t challenge for the ODAC title, but posted a 5-5 record this season, its best showing since 2007. Smith is confident that what he and his teammates accomplished this year will serve as a springboard for better things to come.
“None of us are surprised that we won as many games as we did,” said Smith, who was named the ODAC Defensive Player of the Week for Oct. 7. “We knew we had it in us. It was simply a matter of us putting everything together.
“I like playing hard and showing what I can do. But it’s not about me making 10 or more tackles every game. It’s all about winning, that’s the ultimate goal. I’m proud to be part of a group that’s changing the culture here. As we win more games, people will start to look at Guilford College football a lot differently than they have in the past.”