SAN DIEGO — They call him the "Fresh Prince" and it’s not difficult to decipher why. Texas Tech linebacker Will Smith returned home to Southern California and extended his defensive reign over No. 14 Arizona State Monday night at Qualcomm Stadium, helping the Red Raiders to an upset win in the Holiday Bowl.
The Riverside native was an absolute defensive force, recording a game-high 14 tackles with two for loss. He was named the Defensive Player of the Game, a fitting end to his journeyman career that has taken him from California to Michigan and back before leading him to Lubbock, Texas.
"That’s been a dream of mine," Smith said, following the Red Raiders’ 37-23 win. "I’m taking a look at a few (agents) and hopefully will get to pursue my NFL career if I’m blessed to play."
Smith was born and raised in Riverside. Both of his parents played collegiate sports with his dad, Wade Smith, a former New Mexico football player. He starred at Notre Dame high school, but went relatively unrecruited and attended Northwood University in Midland, Mich. out of high school, playing alongside his twin brother Wade Jr.
After only one season, he returned to the Inland Empire to play at Riverside Community College and was a heralded player, but still wasn’t heavily recruited. Texas Tech was the only major conference program that offered him and he took the opportunity.
Smith instantly made his presence known in the Big 12. He’s a two-time all-conference selection that finished third in the regular season in tackles.
Although he’s not a sure thing, he’s not a long shot either. His speed on the interior is strong and he displayed a strong coverage ability in San Diego and although he is somewhat undersized for an inside linebacker at 220 pounds (6-foot-3), his versatility is an asset.
He’s realistic about his chances. While his teammate, tight end Jace Amaro, announced his intentions to declare for the NFL draft a year early in a wordy, impassioned speech to the media following the game, the Red Raiders’ leading tackler sat quietly, thankful for the opportunity and happy to have ended his college career with a win in front of his family and friends.
"Great line in front of me and great play calling and it allowed me to run around and make plays today," Smith said. "It’s a real cool, a humbling experience."