AUBURN, Ala. — During practice on Friday Jason Smith did something he hasn’t done much of in his time with Auburn football when he accidentally hit an offensive teammate.
That’s the new normal for Smith, though, who switched from wide receiver to defensive back ahead of the Tigers fall camp. Still, the accidental brush led to some light humor from quarterback Sean White, who yelled “traitor” at his former target.
“But it’s all fun and games,” Smith said.
And yet Smith’s last four years have at times been turbulent instead of enjoyable. The Mobile, Ala., native played quarterback at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and had hopes to stay at that position on the Plains. Instead, Smith converted to wideout, where he caught 17 passes over two seasons.
“It’s been hectic, you know what I’m saying,” Smith admitted following Auburn’s first day in full pads. “There’s been a lot of times when I go to my room and cry or whatever about what’s going on. I pray. You know, you just can’t lose faith. God’s got a plan for you. Can’t nobody else stop it.”
I’m praying every day, every night, every morning. My mom’s calling me praying. Just staying positive to try to control what I can control.”
The most recent move occurred just a couple of days before the Tigers began fall camp. After interest and several requests from the defensive coaching staff about a possible change, Smith met with head coach Gus Malzahn.
For Smith, who played safety in high school, the question posed didn’t require much thought.
“I moved to defense,” Smith said. “I’m just trying to step in and get in on special teams and help my team out in any way I can.”
Going from catching footballs to hunting down receivers, however, involved a lot — especially for a player who’d had the ball in his hands for the entirety of his athletic career.
“You’re always on the move, even after the play is snapped,” Smith said of the differences. “You’re still thinking. If this guys comes up under, then you’ve got to get him. It’s a lot to it. But it’s football. I’m glad I’m getting a chance.”
Smith insists that even with some light prodding from defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and the coaching staff that the decision was his to make, and he doesn’t regret any part of it.
Auburn’s newest safety feels fortunate to be surrounded his his new unit of experienced teammates, too.
“Everybody been very helpful. Tray Matthews that’s my dawg. Stephen Roberts is my roommate. Those are the two starting safeties,” Smith said. And that’s just the beginning. Daniel Thomas, Nick Ruffin, Carlton Davis, Jeremiah Dinson, Javaris Davis — Smith could seemingly go on forever.
“Everybody and even the coaches,” Smith said. “They get on me, but they want the best for me. They want me to get it and learn it quick.”
The combination of the need for depth and the intensity of the defense under Steele is only going to help Smith adjust quicker.
“Whole different vibe. The coaches on the defensive side are more fiery,” Smith said. “You got to bring it every day. They preach physicality. We ain’t going to accept nothing less. We flying around out here. We have music playing going into every meeting no matter if it’s film or going into practice. They get us going before we even hit the field.”
And regardless of what happens on the gridiron this year, Smith already has a lot to be proud of. On Saturday, for example, he became the first person in his family to graduate from college.
“It mean a lot to me,” Smith said. “Seeing my mom smile and my dad crying it really touched me. That don’t mean it over with to me. I want to work on my masters and continue on that road to success.”