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Ohio senior wide receiver Sebastian Smith hauls in a catch over Tennessee junior defensive back Todd Kelly Jr. during their game on Saturday, September 17.

Sebastian Smith: The not-so-secret offensive playmaker

Sebastian Smith wanted to issue a correction from a statement coach Frank Solich made last week.

In his weekly press conference, Solich said Smith wasn’t 100 percent healthy against Gardner-Webb, where Smith had six receptions for 106 yards and two touchdowns.

“If I wasn’t 100 percent, then I guess I was 99.9,” Smith joked.

The comment was only teasing his coach, but the remark reveals a lot about Smith’s character.

For one, he’s meticulous. Smith pays attention to all the little details. Sometimes that means the weekly meeting with coaches or dissecting defenses; sometimes that means listening and reading every word about his football team.

“I watch everything,” he said.

The level of observance has molded Smith into Ohio’s top offensive weapon and an explosive wide receiver.

The molding started far younger than Smith hoped it would. Growing up in Columbus, his father, Vernon, introduced Sebastian to football.

“He put me into this game,” Sebastian said. “And taught me life in the game.”

Soon, Sebastian had to teach himself what life was like without his father. Vernon passed away from a brain aneurism a day before turning 43. Sebastian was 15.

“My dad had leukemia, and I saw that process,” Sebastian said. “I saw how strong he was. When he passed, I thought I had to get through it. I have to do it for my loved ones, my brother and my mom.”

While Smith continued to play football, his outlook on the game shifted. Playing at Pickerington Central High School, he primarily played safety because Roger Lewis, his teammate, was the star receiver. Lewis now plays for the New York Giants.

But playing safety only improved Smith’s eventual ability to be a playmaking wideout.

Originally recruited to play safety at Ohio, Smith switched to offense his freshman year. While that meant exchanging an offensive playbook for a defensive one, Smith kept many of the same attributes that are still notable today.

Snatching the ball out of the air is one of those attributes.

Fitting into a 6-foot-3, 206-pound frame, one of Smith’s key strengths is his ability to out-jump defenders.

“He’s versatile,” Ohio wide receivers coach Dwyane Dixon said. “He has a defensive mindset playing offense. So when he goes up for the ball, basically he’s going up as a safety trying to make a pick because he’s used to doing that.”

Dixon considers Smith to be an all-around receiver, meaning he’s a receiving threat in any passing play.

His most apparent trait is his deep threat capability.

Because of quarterback Greg Windham’s strong arm, he’s confident throwing to deep pass patterns –– where Smith excels.

Despite playing injured against No. 15 Tennessee, Smith hauled in nine receptions for 156 yards — good for almost half of Ohio’s total offense.

“I made a statement against Tennessee,” he said. “I wanted to be the playmaker for this offense, and I just go out there and execute my assignments, listen to my coach and do everything I can to help this team.”

That sense of selflessness often leads to more offensive production for Ohio.

Hurt starting the 2016 season, he only played in one half total in the first two games. Limited on-field appearances meant others had to step up.

In Ohio’s first two games, the Bobcats had nine different players have at least one reception. Against Gardner-Webb, when Smith caught his only two passing touchdowns so far this season, 11 Bobcats made catches.

“We hate taking him out because he changes the game for us,” Dixon said. “We want him to be able to be in the game to be an effective part. … (He makes) defenses double cover him and other jobs open up.”

Opening up opposing defenses will be crucial for the Bobcats — at least for the next few games.

With the running back depth depleted and slowly recovering from injuries, Ohio, a predominantly running team, has relied more on passing.

In the last few weeks, that has meant Smith had to be Ohio’s man.

“I just come ready to show up on game day, and my confidence in my playmaking ability takes over,” he said. "Coaches have put me in positions to make plays, and I need to grow out here.”

Being able to utilize Smith on short, medium and long routes translates to a more flexible offense and higher production.

He plays with a gritty style. His showmanship allows him to make loud, crucial plays while performing quietly and efficiently. Even if it’s a touchdown reception over a lowly corner, Smith will simply point to the skill in remembrance of his father.

“I love coaching him,” Dixon said. “He’s coachable. He’s a competitor and doesn’t like losing. He alert. He’s football-savvy.”

Through five games, Smith has 19 receptions for 309 yards and the two touchdowns, making him Ohio’s primary receiver. He’s on pace to surpass his 2015 stats, when he had 64 catches for 770 yards and seven touchdowns.

His ability also means others can get open. Jordan Reid, the other starting wide receiver, has one more reception and touchdown catch, a direct result of defenses game planning around Smith.

“I do think about that,” Smith said of teams focusing on him. “They’re just showing me respect on the field. It’s a sense of respect.”

He also has the respect and interest of NFL teams. Ranked the No. 69 receiver in the upcoming draft by NFL Draft Scout, multiple professional teams have attended Ohio practice and inquired about the receiver.

He said the scouts watching practice only provided more incentive to improve.

“He’s got a shot,” Dixon said. “He’s got a lot of pluses that the NFL guys look for. I think he’s smart enough.”

Now it’s just a matter of consistently performing and helping the Bobcats.

“It’s just a blessing,” Smith said about his growth as a player. “As a young boy, I always thought about (the NFL). … I’ve always been an independent type of guy, just come in, take care of business and get out. I’m just a hard worker.”


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