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November 2, 2011

Smith settling in at corner

Antwan Smith was ready to make a decision. The Bryans Road, Maryland native was ready to step away from the College of the Canyons in California and head back east to play Division I FCS football at Wagner.

But before he officially committed, he granted Robert Morris co-defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator Scott Benzel one last request.

"Coach Benzel called me and said, don't commit until you come here. And that's what happened," Smith said. "I just kind of liked the area. It's a nice quiet little area."

Smith chose Robert Morris and he's been a starter since Day 1, emerging as a shutdown corner despite playing the position for the first time this year.

It's been a wild ride, full of adjustments to time differences and weather, but Smith is settling in now at Robert Morris. A safety in high school, he played both strong safety and free safety in junior college.

"My first year they threw me in during the first game. It was real quick," Smith said. "They tossed me into the jungle and I had to go out and play."

It's been almost the same treatment at Robert Morris, although Smith had the opportunity to work with the team during spring ball. It was then that Smith began to feel comfortable with the switch to corner, although it was certainly an adjustment.

"At first it was kind of fast. I had to learn to adjust to the receivers. Rather than being 15 yards off, they're playing press and eight yards off. But the adjustments have been real good," he said. "Once I got the system down, it was okay. Now it's just athletic ability that comes into play a lot."

The 5-foot-10, 180 pound junior also got a crash course in playing against larger receivers. Smith went up against 6-foot-4 Rickeem Jackson and 6-foot-3 Jamie Cobb throughout camp.

"It helped out a lot. That was the one thing that I was worried about playing corner," Smith said. "How would I fare against the taller receivers? Training camp helped that out a lot."

Smith has also helped shut down some premier wide receivers. Against Liberty's Chris Summers, Smith helped hold the likely NFL draft pick to just three catches for 55 yards and kept him out of the end zone. He wasn't matched up consistently against Monmouth's Marcus Pollard, going up instead mostly against Neal Sterling, where he had a season high six tackles.

He has all of the stats that you traditionally look for in a corner. He has 24 tackles, down a bit on the team leaders to indicate he's not being thrown to constantly but high enough to suggest he's a sure tackler. He also leads the team in pass deflections, although he's yet to grab an interception, something the defense has struggled with as a whole.

"It is a lot of pressure because sometimes the ball doesn't come the way we want it to come," Smith said. "We don't make the plays that we have to make. I've dropped two picks this year, and that hurt a lot."

What's also hurt has been the struggles the team has had as a whole. But Smith said the opportunity to continue to grow with the secondary - all four starters are back next year - and the chance to turn some momentum late in the season could be a big boost. And maybe he and the secondary can provide that boost.

"That's just it. It's all about momentum. Once we get the big plays, everyone will feed off each other, and that's what we need."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.



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