Wisconsin’s Smith savors 2nd chance

first_imgCornerback Devin Smith broke his left foot early last season, never again seeing the field as UW played in its second-straight Rose Bowl.[/media-credit]Exactly one year ago, the Wisconsin football team was in the middle of what would become a four-game winning streak.The Badgers were prepping for a road trip to Illinois – a must-win in the new divisional system. But in their 28-17 second-half comeback, one name in particular was missing from the roster – a name that had been missing since game two of the season.In UW’s 2011 Rose Bowl run, Devin Smith became an almost forgotten name.Prior to the 2011 season, Smith, a cornerback, accumulated 91 career tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass breakups through 37 games (14 starts) from 2008 to 2010. Finally regaining a starting spot in 2011, Smith’s senior campaign was put on hold.Only two games into the 2011 season, Smith broke his left foot and took a medical redshirt.Despite the setback, Smith got a second chance at his senior season and is undoubtedly making the most of it, once again become a familiar name throughout Badger nation.“He got a second chance at his senior season,” secondary coach Ben Strickland said. “He understands the urgency that goes along with that. Once something’s taken from you, you understand how bad you want it back. I think that he understands that.”Through 10 games this season, Smith has 48 tackles – fourth-most on the team behind starting linebackers Mike Taylor, Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong. The senior cornerback leads the team with three interceptions for 45 yards and 10 pass breakups.Smith’s work this season is just one example of a revved up secondary that has come into its own as the season has progressed.“You start to play as a unit; you start to play together,” Smith said. “You start understanding each other and you have the ability to go out there and make a lot more plays just because once you get in that comfortable mindset, you’re able to rely on one another and react to everything you see. You play kind of in sync with one another and I think that’s one thing we’ve done as the season’s progressed.”With three of the four starters being seniors, cornerback Marcus Cromartie credited the secondary’s newfound success as a unit to its chemistry on the field. But that chemistry is also fueled by competition between the players.“We’re very competitive when it comes to getting the first interception,” Cromartie said. “And making plays in general. All of us have aspirations for playing at the next level and the only way to do that is to make plays. When we come out in practice, when we come out in games, if I see Devin make a play, I tell myself I have to make two. So it’s all about competition.”That chemistry has led to 27 of the team’s 50 pass breakups and 218 total tackles out of the secondary.And leading the way is none other than Smith.“Coming back another year, I was a lot more confident in my play,” he said. “I just knew I could go out there and have the ability to make plays. I just have to utilize it whenever the opportunity came my way. Whenever the opportunity does come my way I just go out there and do my best to make the play.”But it took some time for Smith and the secondary to start making a noticeable difference on the field. It wasn’t until six games into the season, when Wisconsin hosted Illinois, that the Badgers caught their first interception of the season – one that fittingly fell into the hands of Smith. He added his second and third interceptions against Minnesota and at Indiana, respectively.While Smith admitted it was at times frustrating that the secondary was unable to create those turnovers, he noted it is all a matter of staying consistent and having patience.“One thing I really harp on is being consistent and that’s my thing I always make sure I do,” Smith said. “Just be consistent every single week and if you do that plays are bound to come your way.”That consistency has helped the Coppell, Texas, native make an unprecedented turnaround from injury to gaining a starting position.Yet, even when he was sidelined for a season, he remained positive about his unfortunate break. As a result, his second chance at a senior campaign has turned into perhaps his best.“I kind of felt like it was a must-have,” Cromartie said of his counterpart’s season so far. “As a senior you don’t have any room for disappointment. You have to come and you’ve got to play and you can’t feel sorry for yourself, and he definitely hasn’t.”“I saw it as a blessing and everything happens for a reason,” Smith said. “I just saw it as another opportunity to go out there and do one thing that I love and that’s play football. … Whenever a play comes my way, I just try to go out there and make a play for my teammates.”Not only has Smith re-made a name for himself this season, but he has also shown maturity through the process, according to Strickland.Smith has not simply taken the field this season. Rather, he’s become the very type of player he hoped to be the minute he first stepped on Camp Randall’s turf.“A lot of guys, when they come in, talk about what they want to do, who they want to be. But a lot of guys don’t support it with their actions,” Strickland said. “And he’s done that this year and as he’s grown up through the years.”Follow Kelly on Twitterlast_img

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