Chad Smith came to Clemson as a four-star recruit out of Dominion High School in Sterling, Virginia. After redshirting in 2015, he spent 2016 on special teams and never played more than 135 snaps over the next two seasons.
After spending the last two seasons as a backup, Smith finally got the chance to make his mark as a starter in 2019, and make his mark he did.
Before Saturday night's Fiesta Bowl, he was third on the team with 68 tackles. As a fifth-year senior, he's also taken on a role of one of the teams leaders on the defensive side of the ball.
The further the Tigers got into the 2019 season, the better Smith got. He shared defensive player of the game honors after leading the team with nine tackles in the 59-7 win over Boston College. Against NC State, he once again led the team with seven tackles. Against South Carolina he had six more tackles, and in the ACC Championship Game, seven more against Virginia.
In Saturday night's Fiesta Bowl, Smith had his best outing to date.
His 12 tackles once again led the team. Eight of those were solo tackles, and he also had half-tackle for loss. The performance earned him the Defensive Most Valuable Player of the Game award. Monday, on as a part of the College Football Playoff National Championship teleconference, he was asked about the emotions he experienced as he soaked it all in on the podium afterward, thinking about his journey to reach that moment.
"Yeah, it definitely did make it all worth it," Smith said. "Just the journey that I've been on. Starting January 5, 2015, when I first got on campus as a freshman, having to redshirt that year, and just buying my time, being patient. And then this year getting the opportunity to be a starter and being able to fulfill that role to the best of my ability and being able to help lead this team to where we are now, to another National Championship run. And being able to be part of such a great team with players like Trevor and the leaders that we have and the guys on this team. It was just an emotional moment to be a part of such a great game and a great moment."
As the Tigers get set to face LSU on January 13th in the CFP National Championship, Smith and his counterparts on the defensive side of the ball are going to need another stellar effort.
The LSU offense has been billed by some as the best ever in college football. Whether that holds true or not, it is without question the nations most explosive this season.
So far this season, no team has been able to slow this LSU offense. Auburn came the closest, allowing them just 23 points, but the Tigers still rolled up over 500 yards of offense.
If there is a group out there capable of doing it however, it's Chad Smith and that Tiger defense.
"So I mean, it just goes back to our preparation," Smith said. "We can hear all the outside noise or we can really focus on what we can do, have a narrow focus, put those blinders on, get ready to go back to work here soon in the next few days, and prepare ourselves to the best of our ability to have that chance to be national champions again."