Clemson linebacker Chad Smith has stood at the top of the hill at Death Valley before games numerous times since arriving on campus in 2015.
He is usually focused on the Tigers’ upcoming game and what his role will be.
Saturday will be a little different.
The Virginia native will still take time to enjoy the moment and think about the matchup with The Citadel before touching Howard’s Rock and running down the hill before Clemson’s final home game of the season, but he will also be thinking about several of his family members who have served in the military as he wears his purple uniform for Military Appreciation Day.
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“It means a lot to me, actually. My family is big in the military,” Smith said this week. “It’s a special day. It’s great to have military appreciation and definitely salute those who serve overseas and sacrifice a lot for not only our safety but just for the country.”
Smith’s grandpa is a World War II veteran and was a pilot in the Air Force. He was a prisoner of war for about three months after being shot down over a German-controlled country. He was the last person to jump out of his airplane, and when he parachuted out, he landed and broke his ankle, according to Smith.
Smith’s dad served in the Air Force for 25 years before retiring as a colonel; his older brother also served in the Air Force and his uncle served in Vietnam.
Smith’s mom also comes from a military family, as her dad served in the Navy.
“It’s a big moment,” Smith said. “Military appreciation, it means a lot to me and my family, and (my grandpa) is definitely a person that’s a true hero in my book.”
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has seen Smith’s military background shine through on multiple occasions since he enrolled at Clemson.
The most recent instance occurred when Smith asked to attend his sister’s wedding, which occurred in Atlanta the Friday before the Florida State game.
“Chad had come to me like forever ago: ‘Coach, I know it’s Friday of the Florida State game and my sister will be getting married’ and it was like at o-nine-hundred hours and that’s kind of how Chad is,” Swinney said laughing. “I just want to put my arms around him and say ‘It’s all right. It’s going to be good.’ ”
Swinney added that Smith and his dad John are very similar.
“He went through this whole deal to try to get permission to go see his sister married … And he had his itinerary. And I’m like, ‘Hey, man, you go enjoy your sister. We’ll be here waiting for you Friday night,’ ” Swinney recalled. “And then, sure enough, his dad followed up with an email too: ‘I know Chad was supposed to talk with you but here’s the schedule’ and he had the itinerary. They’re a family of detail and covers all their bases.”
Smith played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl as a senior in high school and arrived at Clemson as one of the top linebacker recruits in the country, but finding playing time has been tough through his first three years.
Smith redshirted in 2015 and contributed mostly on special teams in 2016 before having an increased role this year.
He played a career-high 39 snaps against Florida State, as the Tigers were banged up at linebacker, and finished with three tackles.
Being patient has been hard for the former four-star recruit, but that patience is starting to pay off.
Swinney said he has no doubt Clemson will continue to feel Smith’s contributions on the field and in the locker room.
“I love Chad,” Swinney said. “He just has a great respect for the process that he’s going through and what it takes. Just a very focused young person and just a great family, a great mom and dad. Really proud of Chad.”