Class act

Class: Senior

Position: Strong safety

Height/weight: 5-11, 210

Stats: 102 tackles in three years, including 79 in 2013; six pass break-ups, two interceptions and one recovered fumble

Did you know?:Smith is one of four Tigers on this year's team to have played in all 40 Clemson games from 2011-13 (DE Corey Crawford, DT DeShawn Williams, WR Adam Humphries)

CLEMSON - The star quarterback broke records, sold jerseys, charmed fans and became nationally recognized with a never-ending logbook of broadcast interviews and appearances.

The strong safety, meanwhile, went about his business, adapted to a brand new position he knew little about, waited two years for a starting role and never once grew envious of Tajh Boyd's celebrity - or wondered what if.

"If you asked somebody who never watched football to name a position? Quarterback. That's gonna be the first thing they're gonna name," said Robert Smith, who played quarterback at Woodland High. "We let them have that. Defense, we do dirty work. That's our job. We don't worry about whose name is in the paper. We know what we contribute to the team and what our role is."

Today, Smith loves and supports all Clemson quarterbacks without resentment - Boyd the past, Cole Stoudt the present, Deshaun Watson the future - while relishing his role as the leader of the Tigers' secondary.

Yet he admits he envisioned a different role for himself at Clemson when he was a kid growing up in St. George.

"I said, if I ever came to Clemson, the first thing I thought of, I'm gonna be the next Woody Dantzler," Smith said of the Tigers' dual-threat quarterback who set 53 school records from 1998-2001. "It didn't happen. But I knew when I came here that I was going to do everything I expected to do. It was a matter of being patient."

Earning respect

One of the finest spread quarterbacks in Woodland history, Smith learned a hard truth during his recruitment: his future laid about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, not hunched over it, if he wanted to pursue big-time college football or a shot at the pros.

"When he was in that phase in his life, like any young man who grows up playing a certain position and somebody tells you you've got to play another, it was hard," Clemson defensive backs coach Mike Reed said. "It'd be hard for anybody to accept, feeling you could excel at that position. But he said, 'I'm going to make the best of my situation.' And he has."

After attending Dabo Swinney's camp his sophomore year of high school, Smith picked up his first major college offer - as an athlete, not a quarterback. Georgia, Georgia Tech, South Carolina, UCLA and Vanderbilt showed interest, but they backed off after Smith suffered a knee injury (torn ACL) his junior season.

"Clemson stuck with him," said Rob Smith Sr., Robert's father. "That's really what helped him make up his mind; he said, if I have to move positions to go there, I'll do it."

Smith is sometimes still one of the forgotten veterans of Clemson's rebuilt defense - Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett find themselves on all the preseason watch lists.

Despite that, Smith is one of the most admired players on the team, reaping constant praise from his peers and coaches, past and present. His 79 tackles ranked first among Clemson defensive backs last year, and he's considered a mentor to younger players like safety Jayron Kearse and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley.

"Robert Smith's always been a model of consistency," third-year Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "He does everything right, and he's learning to be more vocal. It's becoming more and more natural. He's a selfless guy that cares every bit for his teammates and the success of our team as much as he does for himself."

Be Like Tye

The athletic director and head football coach at Brookland-Cayce High School in southwest Columbia keeps a poster of Robert Smith on his office wall.

No way Rusty Charpia, Smith's offensive coordinator at Woodland, can forget one of his favorite pupils.

"I would attribute where I am now to Robert," Charpia said. "And I will tell you why. When my father (Reed) took over the program at Woodland, they had never come close to having a winning season. Then the day Robert stepped on campus as a freshman, we never won less than seven games. He really helped turned that program around."

Swinney made it clear to Smith he was being recruited for defense. At 5-foot-11, he just wasn't tall enough to captain the Clemson offense.

"Probably because of his height and his inability to stay still in the pocket, we knew he was probably going to end up on the defensive side of the ball," Reed Charpia said. "He was very aggressive, a very good tackler, had a good sense for the football."

Smith has spoken to Charpia's squad at Brookland-Cayce about his experiences.

"He had to weigh the love of playing quarterback versus the love of playing for Clemson," Rusty Charpia said. "And I think from the get-go, Clemson was where he really wanted to go because of Tye."

That's Tye Hill, Smith's cousin and a role model of sorts as well as a Clemson defensive back from 2002-05 and first-round NFL draft pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2006.

The 5-10 Hill also played offense at Woodland and started as a Clemson running back, but switched to defense and eventually was named an All-American cornerback his senior year.

"My situation was a little different; I actually asked (to switch to defense.)," Hill said. "Robert kind of was forced to do it, moreso due to his measureables."

"Could he have played D-1 college football as a quarterback? Maybe he could have. But the probability of going to the next level would be much greater at the position he's at right now."

Hill, who now lives in Atlanta where he owns and operates three Golden Corral restaurants, was the first Woodland product to secure a Division I scholarship. Smith was the second.

"You couldn't find a better young man than Robert Smith," Rusty Charpia said. "He's a yes sir, no sir, straight-A student. Never late, never missed a practice. He was just a dream to coach. Every drill, every sprint, he went as hard as he could. And that's why he's starting at Clemson."

No more what-ifs

Playing time was sparse for Smith early. He played 59 snaps his freshman year, then 27 snaps (making seven tackles) in the first three non-conference games of 2012. Once ACC play started, Smith got on the field for one play against Georgia Tech, his only action in the next four games.

That, the midpoint of his sophomore year, was when Smith decided he would never be content until he let go of the past.

"I was like, 'I gotta let it go. I gotta focus on this.' God has a plan for me, and he's not gonna steer me the wrong way," Smith said. "If I'm going to play safety, I'm going to be the best I can be, each and every day. That's what I strive for. If I was just on kickoffs, I was going to be the best kickoff person out there."

Today, Smith feels a sense of relief and satisfaction.

"Because you don't have mixed emotions about it," Smith said. "You don't think about, what if I went to Georgia Tech? What if I went to a smaller school, Appalachian State or something like that, to play quarterback?

"Once you get that out of your mind, and focus on, I'm the safety for Clemson University, that's relieving because you don't have stress or worry about the what-ifs."

He has no second thoughts. No regrets.

"It's just a blessing to be in the position I'm in now," Smith said.