This is the seventh installment in a series where Buckeye Huddle looks back on each member of Ohio State’s 2023 signing class and the impact they had as rookies, as well as the impact they could have during the upcoming 2024 season. Up next is defensive tackle Will Smith, Jr.
Ohio State signed Will Smith, Jr. out of nearby Dublin Coffman High School where he was seen by many as an undersized defensive tackle, but was seen by defensive line coach Larry Johnson as somebody who was still growing into his own. Smith signed with the Buckeyes over offers from Pitt, West Virginia, Kentucky, and others.
Smith was a four-star prospect in the 2023 recruiting class. He was ranked the No. 31 defensive lineman in the nation per the 247Sports Composite, and the No. 7 player in the state of Ohio. He earned First-Team All-State honors as a senior, posting 47 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and five sacks in 10 games for Dublin Coffman.
Will Smith, Jr. (6-3 294) enrolled early for Ohio State, but was already a known figure because his late father was a Buckeye great two decades earlier at defensive end. Injuries slowed Smith last spring. They also kept him from playing in a single game as a true freshman in 2023 and showing what he could do on the field.
For an idea of what the Buckeyes were missing, here is how Dublin Coffman head coach Geron Stokes described Smith to Buckeye Huddle last summer.
“He plays as hard as anybody we’ve had play. His motor and effort is off the charts,” Stokes said. “His power in his hips — he plays behind his hips really well. He’s got to keep getting better with technique. He’s gonna get stronger. He already weighed 295 pounds this spring. He’s going to keep getting stronger. Larry is just gonna continue to get him to perfect his craft. He’s gonna maximize every bit of potential he has.”
So Now What For Will Smith, Jr.?
Will Smith, Jr. projects as a three-tech defensive tackle for the Buckeyes, which is where 2023 starter Tyleik Williams plays. Williams is returning for his senior season, so he will command the bulk of the snaps but there will be opportunities for young players like Smith to emerge.
Smith lost last year due to injury but he was still around gathering experience. His process of becoming Ohio State-ready started years ago and will continue this spring and summer. There isn’t a set depth chart behind Tyleik Williams yet, but names like Smith, Ole Miss transfer Tywone Malone, and fellow redshirt freshman Jason Moore will all be vying for playing time.
Anybody counting Smith out in that competition might want to heed the words of his high school coach.
“It was cool listening to all these colleges say ‘He can’t, he’s too small, Coach,’” Stokes said. “And then when Ohio State offered, even some of the other schools were like ‘I just don’t see it, Coach, I just don’t see it.’ I’m like, ‘You guys are morons.’ You’re looking at the kid underneath the pads. You need to go underneath the pads and underneath the skin and go to the heart. This kid’s got something inside of him that you can’t measure.”
Hopefully this spring, Smith will be able to showcase both the measurables and unmeasurables that got him to Ohio State. If he does, an already deep Buckeye defense is only going to be deeper and more talented.