October 16, 2012 9:51:55 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Tobias Smith doesn't lead the Mississippi State University offensive line in pancake blocks, sacks allowed, or starts this season. He simply leads the team.
With his energy and smile, Smith is the heartbeat of MSU's offense, and everybody involved would verify that description.
"He's always been a leader, not just on the field but as a group it's just great to have him around the locker room," MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy said. "It's a smile on his face and the fact that he's positive in everything he does."
Smith's leadership qualities have helped him overcome four operations -- shoulder, ankles, knee -- that have limited his time on the field. Smith hasn't allowed those injuries to squelch his desire to play football. Last month after a 28-10 victory against Auburn University, the fifth-year senior said he would apply for a sixth-year of eligibility via a medical waiver.
"I've just never been a quitter, and quit is something I've never accepted in my life," Smith said. "It's never crossed my mind, not just because I love football, but I love my teammates and I love Mississippi State, so why would I give all this up if physically I can get fixed again?"
Smith showed that desire Saturday in a 41-31 victory against the University of Tennessee. He returned to the game in the fourth quarter after his surgically repaired leg was rolled up under in a pile early in the second quarter.
"The injury scared me more than anything, but once I realized my leg was strong and I could go back out there I just kept bothering coach Hevesy to put me back in the game," Smith said.
Smith's performance against Tennessee helped him earn co-offensive lineman of the week honors from the Southeastern Conference on Monday. Smith is the first MSU offensive lineman to earn the award since fellow Columbus native and NFL first-round pick Derek Sherrod received the honor four times in 2010.
MSU coach Dan Mullen said Monday that MSU will submit paperwork for Smith to the NCAA to apply for a sixth year of eligibility, but it won't be able to do that until Smith's eligibility runs out. The waiver is the same one tight end Marcus Green applied for and was granted.
Smith graded out at 95 percent and recorded 12 knockdowns despite playing only three quarters. The Columbus native blocked for junior running back LaDarius Perkins, who eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the third time in his past four games. In the passing game, Smith, a team captain, blocked for junior quarterback Tyler Russell, who threw for a career-high 291 yards.
Smith re-entered the game after working on the exercise bike to keep the leg loose. His return helped the offense break out of a slump in the third quarter and put the game away in the final period.
"Here's a guy that didn't play a whole lot last year, didn't go through spring, was held out of winter conditioning, minimal in summer conditioning, minimal in training camp and yet still voted a captain by his teammates" Mullen said. "It shows the respect he has on the team, so him being in the huddle I think uplifts the play of everybody around him."
More importantly, at least in Smith's mind, the offensive line's performance Saturday meant those players received a larger dessert portion at the team meal Sunday. The dessert, which is called "A Big Nasty", is a tradition at MSU. Neither Smith nor Hevesy would divulge the ingredients in the dish.
"We all compete to get the highest grades, but if we all as a line do well then yeah, we get a bigger portion of dessert in the next meal, and that's what we want," Smith said.
Smith's presence has helped younger players on the line like starting
center Dillon Day and redshirt freshman Justin Malone, who has filled in for Smith as coaches have monitored Smith's rehabilitation from a knee injury. The 49 snaps Smith played Saturday tied a season-high (Auburn) for his most action to date.
Malone and Hevesy admit Smith, who wants to be a college football coach, acts like a coach to the younger players in a way that Sherrod, center J.C. Brignone, and guard Quentin Saulsberry did with Smith.
"What impresses me about his impact on this team is this Saturday you got guys like (senior wide receiver) Arceto Clark coming over to me saying, 'Is Tobias OK?' " Hevsey said. "That's how much everybody on this team loves Tobias Smith, and it's wide ranging beyond our small meeting room faction. That's a co-captain for you."
Smith's leadership has played a role in helping No. 15 MSU get off to its third 6-0 start in program history. Despite the fast start, he wants to leave a lasting impact on the program no matter when his eligibility expires.
"It's different here now, and what we need to do is keep this going for the guys coming after us," Smith said. "I'd love to have this be a common thing, MSU being dominant, for guys like Malone, who I think is going to be an All-American some day soon."