FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The last three months have represented a new beginning for veteran defensive end Will Smith, who is in his first season with the Patriots after spending the initial 10 seasons of his career with the Saints.
“It’s pretty much what I expected,” Smith said after a recent training camp practice. “Obviously, we haven’t played anybody, we’ve just been practicing. But I like the coaching, I like the approach to the game, I like the way everyone practices hard. It’s something I thought would be a good situation, and so far it’s been that way.”
The 33-year-old Smith is a leading candidate to serve as the team’s top backup behind Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, potentially coming on in passing situations and seeing additional playing in specific gameplans. At 6-foot-3 and 282 pounds, Smith is a power rusher whose collisions in 1-on-1 pass rush drills have been notable. His 67.5 career sacks rank fourth all-time in Saints history.
Smith, who grew up in Utica, New York, shares his “football journey”:
When he first started playing football: “Eighth grade.”
Why he started playing: “All my friends and everybody in the neighborhood were playing football at the time. Instead of me staying home while everyone else is playing, I wanted to go play with them.”
First positions: “Tight end and receiver.”
Top football memories of Proctor High School: “Beating our rivals, Rome Free Academy. We hadn’t beaten them for a long time.”
Picking Ohio State over others: “I was recruited by University of Miami, Tennessee, Virginia Tech when they had Michael Vick, Michigan, and Boston College -- I went on a visit there; they were pretty good, not a powerhouse but they were competitive week in and week out and it’s a great institution. After going to different universities and checking everything out, I felt more comfortable at Ohio State, meeting the coaches and the D-coordinator at the time.”
Top football memories at Ohio State: “Definitely winning the national championship. It had been so long since Ohio State even had a chance to make it to the game. We got lucky enough to go undefeated and play one of the best teams at the time, the University of Miami, and get a victory. It was a great experience and kind of paved the way and got them back to where they’ve been successful these last eight or nine years.”
On being selected 18th overall by the Saints in 2004: “I actually was disappointed at the time. Not because I was going to the Saints, just because I thought I would be a higher pick. I tested well at the combine and thought I did everything I needed to do. But it kind of helped me out getting drafted that late because it kind of grounded you out a little bit and let's you know there isn’t anything guaranteed in the NFL. So you have to go out and earn it and bust your butt.”
Top memories with the Saints: “Obviously it’s the Super Bowl, but also the 2006 season after [Hurricane] Katrina, coming back. Just overwhelming support of the people of Louisiana and the United States, everyone rallied behind us. We had a great season, went to the NFC Championship Game, and were a couple plays away from going to the Super Bowl. That was kind of the start of the little wave they have going on down there now.”
On being a free agent this past offseason and picking the Patriots: “I got released by the Saints and I was working to get back into football shape, playing, getting accustomed to everything. It was kind of a period where I wasn’t used to it. I wasn’t with a team, I was working out on my own, rehabbing on my own, doing everything by myself. It motivated me. I knew I wasn’t going to get picked up right away, that it would be later on. I thought this was the best fit for me.”
Mentors in his life: “My parents [William and Lisa], and my grandmother [Nancy], who even though she passed away she still showed me the right way – to work hard and do all the right things and be responsible. They’ve supported me the most.”
What he loves the most about football: “The competition. Each day is different. It might look like the same thing over and over, but there are individual battles -- one day you win, the next day you lose. It always keeps you on edge and always keeps you competing and trying to play on a high level.”
Summing up his football journey: “I don’t want to sum it up because it sounds like it’s over. But it’s been great. Football has blessed me in so many ways. It’s helped my family out in so many ways. It’s always been an exciting ride each year I’ve been playing. It hasn’t always been the happiest of times, but it’s always panned out at the end of the year to be a great ride and something I’ve become very passionate about.”