Dec. 14, 2010
MADISON, Wis -- As part of his summer routine, Devin Smith would leave his home in Texas and travel to California where he would visit his uncle and grandfather.
Each day, Smith would go out for a run. What made it special was that his relatives lived in Pasadena. What made it even more special?
"We'd jog around the Rose Bowl about three miles every morning," Smith said. "I remember them telling me, `One day you're going to be playing here.'"
Smith never gave it much serious thought. At the time, he was just trying to prepare himself physically for the start of his high school football season.
"I went out there four years in a row - beginning with the summer prior to my eighth grade season through my junior year in high school," Smith recalled.
Every year, he'd hear the same thing from his uncle and grandfather. "You're going to get to play in the Rose Bowl one day," they'd tell him.
Smith would show the proper respect, nod his head and smile.
"I never thought it would come true," he said.
Smith was still smiling after Sunday's practice at the McClain Center when he was asked about going to Pasadena with his Badger teammates.
"Kind of feels like I'm going back to my second home," he said.
Smith is from Coppell, Texas, a Dallas suburb. He lives about 30 minutes away from the TCU campus in Fort Worth. He was not recruited by the Horned Frog, but he has a number of friends who attend the school.
TCU's leading rusher, Ed Wesley, is from MacArthur High School (Irving), which is on Coppell's schedule. Smith obviously then has a working knowledge of the level of talent that is on the Frogs roster. Especially at the skill positions.
In general, he has been paying attention to TCU since the start of the season. "I would turn on their game and watch their offense," said Smith, a junior defensive back. "They're very explosive. They have a lot of speed and talent.
"Their quarterback (Andy Dalton) doesn't get sacked much at all. Their receivers run good routes, very crisp routes. Jeremy Kerley is a great athlete and Dalton can beat you if you're not in the right place at the right time."
That could apply to Smith and his role in the nickel package.
Right place, right time.
It has been a boost to his confidence.
"I'm just getting my confidence back to where I had it last year," said Smith, who started all 13 games and led the defense in passes defended. "I'm going out there now to make a play, and I'm not worried about making a mistake.
"Once we started going more to our nickel stuff - knowing the coaches and the team would have to depend on me more because it was going to be my role, - I focused on buckling down and I thought to myself, `This is my shot.'"
Smith hasn't disappointed, either. He played far more aggressively over the final weeks of the regular season once again solidifying his spot in the secondary. "I'm just trying to do things to help the team be successful," he said.
Given that the one of UW's starting corners, Niles Brinkley, is a senior, Smith looms as an even bigger piece to the puzzle next season. But he's not looking that far ahead. "We need to finish out this season," he stressed.
What a place to finish, too - in the Rose Bowl.
He has learned never to doubt his uncle and grandfather.