OSU football: Season opener a significant moment for DT Enoch Smith Jr. and his family
STILLWATER — The idea originated with Enoch Smith Jr.’s mother. It honors father, son and the remarkable coincidence Thursday will offer.
When the Smiths travel from Illinois to see their son play in the first game of his final college season, they’ll don customized shirts. One half will represent OSU and No. 56. The other half, No. 52, is an homage to a former Missouri State defensive end.
Enoch Smith Sr.
“I can’t trash talk him because I pretty much know the outcome,” Smith Sr. said.
Smith Sr., graduated from Missouri State in 2002, when his eldest son was 6 years old. The unique circumstance adds some personal meaning to Thursday’s opener for Smith Jr., who will likely be Oklahoma State’s top reserve defensive tackle behind projected starters Darrion Daniels and Trey Carter. No matter the opponent, though, this was always going to be a monumental game for a tackle who has spent his first year-plus in Oklahoma taking advantage of an opportunity he does not take for granted.
A year ago at this time, Smith was still getting adjusted to Stillwater. He was still learning Oklahoma State’s defense. And the 6-foot-2, 295-pound tackle was even getting reacquainted with being part of a team.
That’s because, after transferring out of Michigan State right before the start of the 2016 season, he spent an entire year out of competitive football, keeping up academically and training for another opportunity.
“I worked at Dick’s Sporting Goods,” he said.
Smith’s year off from football was as important as it was eye-opening. But his journey to this point started well before then.
His football path is intertwined with his father’s.
Smith Sr. was a standout football player from the South Side of Chicago. During his senior year of high school, he found out he would be having a daughter.
A year later, he had Smith Jr. Then, he had another son.
His football dreams went to the side for three years until, in 1998, he enrolled at Highland (Kansas) Community College. He joined the football program and excelled, eventually accepting a scholarship offer at Missouri State (then Southwest Missouri State). After college, he played for the Peoria Pirates, an indoor football team in the af2, before moving his family back to Chicago.
Smith Jr., who was born on Christmas Day in 1995, watched it all. Lived it all. And decided he wanted to be a football player himself.
“He was like a ball of muscle at the age of 2,” Smith Sr. said. “But he saw the whole journey. His thing was he wanted to play football, my thing was, I don’t want you to play football, how brutal it was to me. But then when I saw his niche, his drive to want to really play the game, I put him in a park district where I played football here in Chicago and he kind of took it from there and blossomed.”
He helped Chicago’s Mount Carmel win consecutive state championships in high school and was sought after as a recruit. He connected with Michigan State and became one of the major pieces of the Spartans’ 2014 signing class.
After a redshirt year, he got in three games in 2015, the year the Spartans reached the College Football Playoff. But he was set back by injuries during his time in East Lansing, Michigan, and decided to look for a fresh start just days before the beginning of the 2016 season.
Which brings us back to Dick’s Sporting Goods and the year off.
Smith didn’t want to take a year off from football. He tried to enroll at Butler (Kansas) Community College, arriving on its campus in El Dorado, Kansas. But he said he enrolled a day too late to be eligible to play.
Rather than remain at an unfamiliar place, he moved home and enrolled at Kennedy-King College on Chicago’s South Side.
Wanting to make some money, he picked up a part-time job at Dick’s 25-32 hours a week as a cashier and in the clothing department.
”Wanted to make money for myself and not depend on my parents,” he said. “Took care of my academics and worked out with my dad non-stop. Worked out at some other facilities back in Chicago as well, but really just staying focused because I didn’t want to get myself in trouble back in Chicago because we know the stereotype that comes with Chicago. So just kept myself busy.”
Smith Sr. runs a sports performance clinic, Starts Up Front, that focuses on the offensive and defensive lines. That helped Smith stay in shape while he kept his academics in order and listened to inquiries from programs like Kentucky, Syracuse and OSU.
Both father and son gravitated toward the Oklahoma State coaching staff, specifically defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements.
”I thought Coach Clements was more of the coach that I would want my son around,” Smith Sr. said.
In the final three games of last season, when Daniels was out with an injury, Smith flashed his potential. He posted 3.5 tackles for loss, including two against Kansas State. His finish to last season and journey from Power-5 school-to-junior-college-to-OSU are a little reminiscent of DeQuinton Osborne, who developed into a force as a senior in Stillwater after beginning his career at Missouri.
Could Smith be in for a similar second-year leap? The father who has trained him for years sees a player who is as tough to deal with as ever.
Said Smith Sr.: “He’s a powerful horse now.”