Last Saturday, the North Dakota State University football team was facing adversity against the Youngstown State University Penguins. Not only were they going to be without star linebacker Grant Olson, they would also be without the services of star corner Marcus Williams.
This would mean CJ Smith, the number two corner on the depth chart, would have to slide over and defend YSU’s best receiver. Smith wasn’t even sure if he would be the number two corner when the year began. He, Jordan Champion and Brendin Pierre were all fighting for that spot throughout fall camp.
Smith’s game on Saturday against the Penguins was a solid one. He had three tackles and one pass breakup.
“He certainly was playing with a great deal of fire and energy,” said head coach Craig Bohl. “He was challenged and for the most part I thought he delivered well.”
Smith’s passion on Saturday came through particularly on one play in the third quarter. Smith had stopped Martin Ruiz, the running back for the Penguins, and while stopping his forward momentum, he was attempting to rip the ball out of his hands.
Ruiz did not take kindly to this and a shoving match ensued. Smith’s actions drew the ire of YSU head coach Eric Wolford, who drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty while asking for Smith to be removed from the game.
“He is a quiet, unassuming guy,” said Bohl. “When he was out there on that field I know he was pretty fired up.”
Smith has been able to play in relative obscurity in what is probably the most talented defensive secondary in the FCS. Smith is tied for the team lead in interceptions with two and leads the team in pass break-ups with seven. He also has not missed a game, starting in every contest so far this season.
In my opinion, he has been more consistent than All-American Marcus Williams. He is more physical than Williams and is a much better tackler. While he doesn’t have the type of ball skills Williams does, he does not fall far behind him in athleticism.
Smith is a former basketball player who has the leaping ability to defend against taller receivers. It has been fun to watch him develop over this season and should be a shut down corner for this team for the next couple years.
If the Bison choose to sit Williams for one more week, which is possible, than I have no worries that Smith will come in and perform just as well as he did last week. For a guy who has started in the same secondary as Christian Dudzik, Colten Heagle and Williams all season, he is choosing the right time to get noticed.
You can follow Daniel "Pinto" Gunderson on Twitter at @pintoKFGO or friend him on Facebook. You can hear him on his weekly podcast show on kfgo.com, 740thefan.com or on iTunes called “The Pinto and White Shadow Show.” Pinto is a radio producer within the Midwest Communications-Fargo company.