Friday Night Hero: Carson's T.J. Smith
By Ronnie Gallagher
MOUNT ULLA — Carson assistant Travis Billings says middle linebacker T.J. Smith has a feel for where the ball is going.
He’ll get no argument from North Rowan after Smith and the Cougars kept the Cavalier offense out of the end zone in a season-opening 16-6 victory Friday night.
Smith, a 6-1, 230-pound stud, didn’t take credit for holding North to 65 yards on the ground and 31 through the air. But it was hard to overlook his 17-tackle performance.
“He was all over the field,” Billings said. “He’s football smart. He has a knack for it. He sees the whole picture.”
Thirteen of those stops were solo. And that’s nothing more than a carryover from every afternoon in practice.
“We have to put the reins on him in practice,” Billings smiled. “He’s a pretty physical player.”
Smith just shrugged off the accolades of Billings and head coach Mark Woody. It’s a team effort every Friday night, he said.
“I never take all the credit. If the defensive line doesn’t do its job, there’s no way for me to get tackles. I always play off the defensive line.”
His senior buddy, Jeremiah Smith, was another key.
“T.J. and Jeremiah cohort up front,” Billings said.
Carson coaches also knew the offense had a sophomore quarterback (Austin McNeil) in his first game and the defense had to make sure North didn’t get a big lead.
“Sometimes, the defense has to come up with some early stops,” Billings said.
That happened after North, leading 6-0 on a blocked punt recovery, drove to the Carson 19 and fumbled.
“It gave the defense more of a fire to do better and not let them score,” Smith said.
Woody said Smith has made himself into a college prospect.
“T.J.’s been a good ballplayer for three years,” Woody said. “He’s very passionate about getting better. He’s all business on Friday night.”
Smith proved it when he dislocated a finger on that fumble recovery.
“I caught the fumble and fell on it,” Smith grinned, showing off his black-and-blue finger. “It hurt. But I never like coming out of a game. We put some tape on it.”
Billings was certainly impressed.
“He was tough enough to pop it back in place,” Billings noted. “He said, ‘Coach, I’ve gotta go back out there. I’ve gotta play.’ That’s the mentality people have at the next level that’s hard to teach.”
The next level is definitely interested in Carson’s linebacker.
“I’m running faster than I was,” Smith said. “I’m lifting and benching more than I ever was.”
Charlotte, which is starting a program, would love to have the ferocious linebacker. N.C. State has inquired. After seeing film of Carson’s opener, more will get involved in the recruitment.
“I went to some camps,” Smith said. “They know who I am.”
And if they don’t, make a call to North Rowan. The Cavs can tell them all they need to know.