|Dominion High School linebacker/running back Chad Smith, shown here rushing for a touchdown during a 2013 game against Potomac Falls, has one season left with the Titans before moving on to the Atlantic Coast Conference.—Times-Mirror Photo/Doug Stroud|
Chad Smith is going to be a Tiger, but he will always be a Titan.
The tough-minded 6-foot-4 All-American outside linebacker, a rising senior whom Dominion High School head coach Karl Buckwalter calls "the most instinctive football player I've ever been privileged to coach," announced April 10 he will accept a scholarship offer to play football at Clemson University after graduation.
The highly sought-after Smith, who many recruiting services rate as a three-star prospect, had 11 such offers to choose from, including Penn State, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, Illinois, North Carolina, Maryland and Virginia.
"It just felt like home," Smith said about Clemson, a major public university in a small South Carolina town of the same name.
"It just fit me. The coaching staff fit me," Smith continued. "I'd say [defensive coordinator and linebackers coach] Brent Venables' personality is a match with mine. He's intense and passionate about football but very kind off the field, and those are qualities that I think I have too."
Smith, who turned 18 on April 16, will take a couple of summer courses at Northern Virginia Community College in order to graduate from Dominion in December and enroll at Clemson in January 2015.
It's not the first time Smith decided among schools for his educational and football growth. Born in Reston and raised mostly in Sterling, Smith was home-schooled until high school age, when he and father John opted to enroll in a school to put the NFL-dreaming Chad on course to play college football.
Several private institutions like Gonzaga College High School were considered, as were football powerhouses Stone Bridge and Briar Woods, though those two public schools' territories didn't quite reach the Smith residence.
Ultimately, a meeting with Buckwalter sold the Smiths on Dominion, an 11-year-old public school in Sterling.
"It was the straight-up honesty from Coach Buck. He was very up front with me about playing time and the need to work hard and how I could have an impact," Smith said. "I'm so glad I chose Dominion. There's no other coach in this entire nation I would rather play for than Coach Buck."
The admiration is mutual. Buckwalter, a 25-year veteran of high school head coaching who last season led the Titans to their second playoff berth and first-ever playoff win, calls Smith the most "driven" and "instinctual" player he's had.
"He's got the knack, he's got the gifts, and he's a gamer. He loves to be coached," Buckwalter said. "He stands out. He tests extremely well, but it's when he gets into the one-on-one drills that he shines."
Smith started at free safety in his freshman season, soon moving closer to the ball as a versatile, physical linebacker with superb pass coverage skills. Offensively, he carried the mail as the Titans' primary running back last year, but is willing to play anywhere to help Dominion win.
"If I need to line up at tight end or wide receiver or even as the quarterback, it's whatever it takes for us to make the playoffs again," Smith said.
That's exactly the sort of team-first dedication Buckwalter wants to instill within his program.
"He brings a work ethic that's contagious. He proves that hard work will pay dividends," the coach said. "He's the first in the weight room and the last to leave. He's always watching film, studying the game. He's always rallying his teammates. He leads by example."
Buckwalter, entering his seventh season at Dominion's helm, reported that a record number of kids are turning out for off-season weight training sessions.
"We want to continue on that journey, and obviously Chad's a big part of it."
Smith too would like to see the Titans build upon their school-best 7-5 mark of a year ago, including a deeper playoff run.
"I believe we can be better than we were last year. We're out to prove to people in Loudoun that last year wasn't a fluke. We want to put Dominion on the map for football. For my last season with Coach Buck, we plan on making that happen," Smith said.
"To help cultivate a winning tradition for this school is definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life."
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