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Dave Smith once a Spartan and still a Spartan 50-plus years later


Smith has made a big impact on MSU and the NFL.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

Smith has made a big impact on MSU and the NFL. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard.

By Bob Tripi

Not many people notice Dave Smith when he attends Michigan State football games, but if you are a Spartan player you want him to notice you.

Smith, a former MSU football player and coach, is a scout with the Buffalo Bills. He has spent the last 32 years evaluating Spartans, and players from dozens of other colleges throughout the United States.

So who’s the best Spartan he’s seen in those years?

“The two that stick out in my mind are Tony Mandarich and Lorenzo White. Tony was the best offensive tackle I’ve ever seen at the collegiate level and Lorenzo was one of the best running backs that I’ve seen. It would be easier to say who did you scout that ended up in Buffalo and that would be Mark Brammer who ended up being a very good player for us for a number of years.”

But being around talented football players at MSU is not new to Smith. During his playing days from 1952 through 1955, Smith played alongside several All-Americans.

“We had some great players. In the four years that I was here, we were national champions in 1952, in 1953, our first year in the Big Ten, we won the Big Ten championship and went to the Rose Bowl. In 1954, Duffy’s first year, we kind of had a downer, but the next year with (Carl) Buck Nystrom as our captain and Earl Morrall and Jerry Planutis we tied for the Big Ten title with Ohio State and went back to the Rose Bowl again and were national champions.”

In 1967, after a successful high school coaching career in which his teams won nine conference championships in 11 years, Smith returned to East Lansing as an assistant under Duffy Daugherty, coaching the linebackers and receivers.

“The most notable player I had when I moved to the offensive side of the ball was Billy Joe Dupree at tight end. But the best player I ever coached was Rich Saul. He was a great linebacker. Unfortunately, he injured his knee against Ohio State. He had a total knee reconstruction. He rehabbed his knee and was bound and determined to play his senior year and graduate with his brother Ron. He did that and was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams where he played 12 seasons.

“My best recruit was Joe DeLamielleure who I hope one day will be on the Spartan Wall of Fame. When we recruited him, we told him he’d be a three-year starter, captain of the team, All-American, a first-round draft pick and make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He accomplished all five things.”

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For the past 32 years, Smith has had the opportunity to view other MSU coaches’ recruits. Judging by what he’s seen on the field lately, he thinks Spartan Head Coach Mark Dantonio is a perfect fit for the program.

“I think Mark’s done a great job,” Smith said. “There’s no question. There are better players here than there have been for a number of years.”

Smith said part of the problem with past coaches was that they were unable to bring in players from Michigan.

“When Duffy was here, we owned the state,” he said. “When it came to 20 kids who could play major college football, we’d get 17 of them, Michigan would get two and Notre Dame would get one.

“When Duffy retired, all of sudden everybody in the world was coming here to recruit. It wasn’t until George (Perles) was hired that the commitments started coming back in. He committed himself to Michigan players like Biggie Munn had and all of a sudden he started getting some of the top talent out of the state.”

That philosophy is now being followed by Dantonio.

“That’s what Mark is doing,” Smith said. “The people who preceded him had no ties. They were lucky if they knew where Detroit was. When guys like (tackle) Joe Staley from Rockford who was a first round draft choice and is a great player right now in San Francisco are not even recruited hardly by Michigan State, you can’t miss on those people.

“Mark has done a great job. I don’t think there’s anything he’s done wrong since he’s been here. And he’s got tapped in to the really good players in the state. There are a lot of good players here and there are going to be more.”

One of those good players that Smith has been watching the last two seasons, along with most other scouts, is linebacker Greg Jones. Smith applauded Jones’ decision to return for his senior year.

“Absolutely good decision,” Smith said. “He’s worked really hard during the offseason and got himself bulked up a little bit. He doesn’t seem to have lost anything. He’s helped himself in terms of where he may go in the draft.”

And with the Bills needing help at linebacker and Smith keeping a keen eye on him, the possibility exists that Jones may be the next Spartan shuffling off to Buffalo. 

This article is reprinted from the September Spartan Nation Magazine