It took Nate Smith a bit of time to figure out his sports niche when he was a multi-talented high-school athlete for the Bishop O’Connell Knights.
Smith, now a backup sophomore outside linebacker/defensive end for the Division I Army Black Knights football team at West Point, played baseball, basketball, football and was involved for a brief time in track and field at O’Connell. Of the three, football probably was his least favorite for a time.
But with a lanky frame, along with good speed and quickness, Smith eventually realized football probably would present his best path to playing a sport at a high level in college.
“I really did like all three sports in high school,” said the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Smith, who weighed closer to 210 pounds at O’Connell. “My dream always was to play college football. So I made the decision to just play football my senior year at O’Connell and get more prepared.”
For Army this season, Smith has seen his playing time increase in every game, and he has made some key defensive plays. On a couple of snaps, Smith came up with a big third-down stop and broke up a pass.
“Nate has a lot of talent and has made some good plays in our games. He is young, focused and is getting better,” said John Loose, Army’s assistant head coach and outside linebackers coach. “Nate is very strong and can shock you with his strength.”
Loose said Smith could become a starter on defense.
Colin Disch, Smith’s head coach at O’Connell, saw the potential in him from the start.
“When Nate was at O’Connell he had huge hands, long legs and long arms and could really get up and bat balls down,” Disch said. “He showed tremendous growth mentally and physically in football. So I’m not surprised he is doing well at all. We could see his frame and how he could easily be 250 pounds or more.”
For O’Connell, Smith received various football accolades for being a standout linebacker on defense. He made first-team All-Sun Gazette on defense as a junior and senior and was Division I first-team all-state for private schools on defense his senior year. He made second team all-state as a junior and also earned All-Washington Catholic Athletic Conference selections on defense.
“Nate thrived in discipline and showed a lot of maturity over his four years at O’Connell,” Disch said. “We knew his best football was ahead of him and had the chance to turn into something good. With the structure at Army, he has the chance to excel.”
After graduating from O’Connell, Smith spent the next football season as a member of Army’s prep-school team, earning considerable playing time.
“I learned a lot from that first year,” said Smith, an engineering/management major. “I am very fortunate to be here and to have the chance to play. There are so many benefits here. I just want to play defense, fill in where I can, and want to coaches to trust me.”
As a freshman the next fall, Smith was on the Army team but saw little action in certain situations, playing in three games where he was credited with two tackles.
Looking ahead, Smith has his eye on the famed Dec. 12 Army-Navy game in Philadelphia, and is hoping to play in that contest. He was on site for the 2019 game.
“That game is a different experience,” he said.