That's reason enough to believe that this could be another big year for Smith, who said he is committed to doing what's necessary to continue to become one of the nation's top outside linebackers.
"I think as a player I've grown up a lot," he said. "I'm still learning the system and studying more film. It's going to help me out a lot."
Smith proved to be a quick study last season, when he was voted to the Gateway Football Conference's all-newcomer team just four months after pulling up stakes at Missouri, where he redshirted in 2001 and played in 12 games in 2002.
"Looking back on everything, I think everything happens for a reason," he said. "It's been great for me. I'm making the best out of it."
Moving down one level from a Division I-A school meant Smith was eligible to play immediately.
"It took me a couple of weeks to adjust to the scheme, but after I grasped hold of it I gradually got better," he said.
Smith played in all but the first game of the season for the Hilltoppers, and he started the last nine, including their two I-AA playoff games.
He finished with 83 tackles and tied for second in the league in sacks with nine. His sack total also ranked him in the top 20 in the nation, and he also tied for third in the GFC with three fumble recoveries and had one interception.
"I finished up the season strong, and that left me something to hold on to for the summer," Smith said. "I was glad I was able to be productive and earn a starting position. I was kind of proud of being one of the top people in the nation in sacks."
Smith said his goals for his last two years at Western go much higher than that.
"I'd like to be a first-team All-American and one of the best linebackers in I-AA," he said.
Smith said he also has his eye on the possibility of playing professionally someday.
"My goal is to train my body for the NFL," he said. "I've got two years of eligibility left, but I want to train myself just in case the opportunity does come around."
Smith said the Western coaches have made comparisons to Sherrod Coates, a former All-America linebacker at Western who is entering his second season with the NFL's Cleveland Browns.
Even though he's only a junior, Smith will be one of the leaders of the Western defense. The Hilltoppers lost seven defensive starters from last year's team, which led the GFC in scoring defense.
"We're going to be pretty solid again," he said. "Western's known for their defense."
Smith said it didn't take him long to make friends on the team, though it didn't happen immediately.
"The first day I came in they were like, 'Who was this kid?'" he said. "But a couple of guys took me under their wing, and I gradually started to get to know people."
He said one of his best friends on the team is fellow linebacker Charles Thompson, a Louisville native whom he played against in high school when his Lincoln met Thompson's Central squad in the playoffs.
Smith said he was impressed with the level of play at Western and throughout the GFC, which placed four teams in the 16-team Division I-AA playoff field last fall.
"They're definitely in the best conference in I-AA," he said. "Teams in this conference could easily be I-A schools."|None|***