2018-08-10 / Sports

Smith adds one last chapter to amazing collegiate career


Former Hammond star Cannon Smith enters his final year as a Clemson Tiger. 
Contributed by Phillip Sikes/Clemson Athletics Former Hammond star Cannon Smith enters his final year as a Clemson Tiger. Contributed by Phillip Sikes/Clemson Athletics Former Hammond star Cannon Smith enters his final season as a member of the Clemson Tigers football team. So far his career has included a CFP National Championship, two College Football Playoff National Championship games, three appearances in the College Football Playoffs, and three Atlantic Coast Conference Championships.

Success is nothing new to Smith, who was a two-time state championship at Hammond. While Clemson was accustomed to winning before Smith stepped onto campus, he has seen the program transition into a perennial national championship contender.

“I knew as soon as I got surrounded by the type of guys I was with my redshirt year that Clemson had a lot of big things coming its way,” Smith said. “Seeing the types of guys we bring in here, the way the coaching staff coaches us, and just the fact I’ve learned a lot as a player and a man, I knew Clemson was going to be something special early on.”

Smith red-shirted his first year on campus in 2014, and Clemson finished 10-3, its fourth straight 10-win season. The next season, the Tigers started 14-0 before falling to Alabama in the CFP National Championship game. A year later, Clemson avenged the loss by beating the Crimson Tide for a National Championship. This past season, the Tigers fell once again to Alabama in the College Football Playoffs.

“It says a lot about the culture Coach Swinney has built,” Smith said. “He gave us all the tools to succeed. At the end of the day, everyone on the team just wants to improve every day. We owe it all to the kind of culture he’s created.”

Smith says Eric Kimrey and the rest of his Hammond coaches helped with his adjustment to big time college football.

“Having high school success is one thing, but it’s a different thing in college,” Smith said. “When you get thrown into your first practice in college, it’s a whole new world. Everyone is flying around. It’s faster pace. Everyone is as big as you if not bigger. High school did prepare me because I had a good coaching staff that taught me basic fundamentals that helped me at the college level.”

Competition at his position also helped with his transition to the next level. Smith spent the first three years at Clemson competing against current New York Jets tight end Jordan Leggett along with graduate Stanton Seckinger, highly rated prospect Garrett Williams, and Milan Richard, whose uncle is Heisman trophy winner Hershcel Walker. Despite that competition, Smith has battled through and found a spot on the team. While he has seen time on the field in Clemson’s offense, he has been a mainstay on special teams. Smith said he doesn’t really ask questions regarding more playing time, he just wants to perform his best at whatever role the team needs him.

While Smith’s career hasn’t been as flashy as some of his teammates, it has brought him some special memories. The CFP National Championship win over Alabama in Tampa in 2016 molded an even deeper bond with his father, Bill Smith, who was a member of Clemson’s 1981 National Championship team.

“ That’s something he and I can share for the rest of our lives,” Smith said. “He has his stories, and I have mine. Just being able to sit down and talk about our experiences, how we’ve had that bond and fellowship, and being able to reach the top like that is something I will never forget and is great to share with my dad. I’m very thankful and honored to get to share that experience with him.”

Smith also remembers the first time he ran down the hill. However, his favorite memories involve spending time with his teammates.

While the final year of a playing career can be sentimental, there is still plenty left for Smith to accomplish. One noteworthy goal would be a fifth straight win over his hometown University of South Carolina Gamecocks, a feat not accomplished by Clemson since a seven game winning streak from 1934-1940.

Smith said the previous four games have been interesting since he has a lot of high school friends who attend USC. While they like giving each other a hard time, Smith said at the end of the day, it’s a healthy competition. He has enjoyed his two opportunities to play in front of his friends at Williams-Brice Stadium, in 2015 and 2017.

Another goal is to reach the College Football Playoffs for a fourth-straight season, something Clemson is a heavy favorite to achieve. Smith said last year’s Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama left the Tigers feeling like they left something on the table, but they are completely focused on the 2018 season.

It has been an offseason full of preseason honors and accolades for the Tigers. In multiple polls, Clemson is ranked No. 2 heading into the season. The Tigers’ defensive line has also garnered plenty of attention. Despite all that, Smith said they don’t really pay attention to it. What is helpful, according to the tight end, is going up against such a talented defense every day in practice.

During his time at Clemson, Smith has transitioned from an underclassmen to a team leader, which he credits to players before him, like Leggett.

For his career, Smith has caught five passes for 49 yards. His lone touchdown came in a 28-14 win over Wake Forest October 7, 2017.

Clemson opens its 2018 campaign September 1 at home against the Furman Paladins. Smith says if the Tigers continue to work hard to be the best version of themselve then 2018 will be a successful season.

Many believe the best version of Smith and his teammates could win another National Championship. Time will tell, but while Smith’s career began on Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium, he probably wouldn’t mind it ending January 7 at Levi Stadium in San Francisco.

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