Will Smith, Jr.’s father was an Ohio State All-American defensive end and a former first-round NFL draft pick. That made Will Jr. a Buckeye by birth, but he still had to put in the work to earn a scholarship. And earning the scholarship was just the end of one chapter and the start of the next.
Smith (6-3 294) was a four-star prospect in the 2023 recruiting class. He was ranked the No. 31 defensive lineman and the No. 245 player in the nation overall. Out of nearby Dublin Coffman High School, Smith enrolled in the winter and participated in spring ball for the Buckeyes.
What To Like
If you don’t know Will Smith, Jr.’s path to becoming an Ohio State defensive tackle, it wasn’t easy. Sure, he was a Legacy Buckeye, but that wouldn’t have mattered if he stayed an undersized defensive lineman. He put in the work to add strength and weight, while also maintaining the quickness and speed that could set him apart on the interior.
One thing that he maintained throughout all of it is his relentless pursuit of the football. He chases the ball carrier just like he chased his opportunity at Ohio State. That is the kind of determination that is needed on the line of scrimmage, on third down, fourth down, and the fourth quarter. The inability to quit will always be welcomed by defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
Playing mostly defensive end in a three-man front in high school, Will Smith, Jr. already has the kind of experience rushing the passer that Larry Johnson wants. The move from 3-4 defensive end to 4-3 defensive tackle isn’t going to be foreign for him, especially since he has certainly played tackle in his time at Coffman.
Wherever he has lined up, he plays the same kind of determination that enabled him to go from a 235-pound sophomore defensive end to a 294-pound freshman defensive tackle. He can utilize his natural quickness on the interior to disrupt a play, but also has the ability to chase it down.
He will get better at dealing with double teams on the interior, and he will get stronger. The quickness and leverage that he plays with already will only improve.
The Buckeyes could use some help with their defensive tackle depth this season, so there is an opportunity for a true freshman like Will Smith, Jr. to get some playing time. He is one of three freshman defensive tackles in the 2023 class, however, so he’s definitely going to have some competition.
Smith is an intelligent player who can take the classroom to the practice field, and the practice field to the playing field. Even though he’s been going through a defensive tackle crash course since January, it hasn’t been too much for him yet.
This may or may not be a redshirt year for Smith. Practice and injuries will likely determine his playing time situation this year, but nothing will get in the way of him learning the system and improving his “tool box,” as Larry Johnson would say.
The Bottom Line
Will Smith, Jr. has the kind of attitude that will always make coaches take a second look. It will also show up on film. The Buckeyes have three veteran defensive tackles that they will happily rely on this year. Head coach Ryan Day has hinted at a smaller rotation among the defensive linemen this year, but there should still be opportunities to play the freshmen this year. Whether or not that’s more than four games remains to be seen.
The bottom line is that Will Smith, Jr. did everything in his power to become a Buckeye. He spent his offseasons with trainers, nutritionists, and coaches to get here. And now that he’s here, don’t expect any of that effort and determination to suddenly go away.
Previous Closer Look editions
Quarterback Lincoln Kienholz | Wide Receiver Carnell Tate | Wide Receiver Brandon Inniss | Wide Receiver Noah Rogers | Wide Receiver Bryson Rodgers | Tight End Jelani Thurman | Offensive Lineman Vic Cutler | Offensive Lineman Josh Simmons | Offensive Lineman Luke Montgomery | Offensive Lineman Joshua Padilla | Offensive Lineman Austin Siereveld | Offensive Lineman Miles Walker | Defensive End Joshua Mickens | Defensive Tackle Tywone Malone | Defensive Tackle Kayden McDonald | Defensive Tackle Jason Moore | Cornerback Jermaine Mathews, Jr. | Cornerback Calvin Simpson-Hunt | Cornerback Davison Igbinosun | Safety Ja’Had Carter | Safety Jayden Bonsu | Safety Cedrick Hawkins