There might have been some better defensive football players in the country last year than Sutton Smith was, but none could match his accomplishments statistically.
As a sophomore for Northern Illinois University Smith led the nation in tackles for loss with 29.5 and he set an NIU record with 14 sacks. His motor is always running high.
“He had historic numbers last year and I’ve said this, I’ve said this to him he can play better as a defensive end and not come close to those numbers, but I would bet on him if he sets his mind to go attack it,” says NIU head coach Rod Carey.
Offenses went out of their way to try to stop Smith last season. They couldn’t.
“Oh man they chip block with running backs,” says Smith. “They’ll put a tight end that’ll pay basketball with me and they’ll like (he shakes) stay in front of me because they think they can match speed with speed. Sometimes I’ve been triple-teamed.”
Smith knows when the defense is so focused on stopping him it opens up plays for him teammates on the defense. “When I have two or three guys try to come at me it’s like, ‘You know we’ve got other studs on this defense right.?”
“We’ve got a lot of good players on defense,” says Carey. “I think if Sutton accepts that role (of being double or triple teamed) and he really has, and he knows it’s coming, then his teammates are really freed up to so some things.”
Despite Smith’s dominance last year there are still questions in some people’s minds if he can be effective defending the run. Those doubts only motivate Smith more. “It honestly sickens me that they still think I can’t do that,” says Smith.
Just for good measure Smith has added 20 more pounds this season to give him more mass to go with his speed. He weighs 235 now.
“Oh I love that weight,” says Smith. “Honestly people thought I was just a speed rusher, speed rusher, speed rusher. Well they better not prepare for just a speed rusher. If we’re going to play a run game I’m going to hit you in your face. That’s how it’s going to be.”
Smith is looking forward to playing NIU’s tough non-conference schedule of Iowa, Utah, Florida State and BYU. He says that simply gives him more opportunities to show what he can do against good competition.