By day, the Jacksonville State junior linebacker is an unassuming college student pursuing his degree in sociology. But when 3 o’clock — and Saturdays — roll around, he turns into Spiderman, rounding up opposing ball carriers in his well-cast web.
And if you want to know the truth about it, he’s getting known more around campus by his alter ego than his given name.
“It’s funny,” Smith said the other day. “I get asked about it probably three times every day; it’s crazy. It got to the point where my parents came to the dorm and asked for Rashad Smith’s room and the RA couldn’t find it. Then, he said, ‘Oh, you mean ‘Spiderman.’”
Does whatever a spider can
The real Spiderman may have been born in a science lab after Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, but Smith’s alter ego was born on the high school practice field.
One day at Fort Walton Beach when he was engaged in a play where both guards were pulling, he came off the edge, caught them both and closed up on the ballcarrier.
His position coach, amazed at the defensive end’s range and effort, said, “There you go, ‘Spiderman,’” and it has stuck ever since.
FWB coach Mike Owens doesn’t remember that particular instance, but he does remember the player with a Spiderman backpack who sat in meetings hanging on every word and played with a high-rev motor.
“It didn’t matter what you were talking about, he would stare a hole through you taking in every word,” Owens said Thursday. “And his effort was incredible. I don’t know if I ever coached a kid who played as hard as he did. He was all over, sideline to sideline. It just means so much to him. He’s not the biggest, the fastest, whatever, but he makes up for it with his effort ... and has a good time doing it. That Spiderman thing just kind of stuck.”
And Smith plays it to the hilt. He doesn’t dress up in a red suit and mask, although you could say the Gamecocks’ red uniforms and helmet serve the same purpose, but he shows it in other ways.
He has Spiderman on his lettermen’s jacket. He decorated his room last school year in a Spiderman motif. He postscripts his autographs with a “Spiderman 51.” And he’s been known to cut spiderweb patterns into his hair, even cutting Spiderman eyes into the back of his head to give him that Spidey-sense to shake would-be blockers without even seeing them.
“It’s kind of slowed down since I got older,” he said. “I remember when people on campus would ask who’s Spiderman. They’d see and they’d know.”
Friendly neighborhood Spiderman
Spins a web, any size
Catches foes just like flies
A lot of people around the Ohio Valley Conference know him now. It took three years for Smith to break into the Gamecocks’ rotation, but it didn’t take him long to make an impact once he did. He had a team-high nine tackles in his debut last year against UT Martin and followed it the next week with eight tackles, a hurry and broke up a pass at Chattanooga.
He ended up leading the team in tackles (77) and was second in the OVC in solo hits (65) — and thought he could have done more. He’s the conference’s leading tackler this year with only two games in the books; his closest challenger has played three.
“I think his numbers clearly define who he is,” Gamecocks head coach Jack Crowe said. “He’s a guy I trust and believe in.”
Defensive coordinator Chris Boone called Smith “pretty special” and would put him among the best linebackers he’s ever coached — and he had three FCS All-Americans at UT Martin.
“He just loves football and he doesn’t want to let anybody down,” Boone said. “He would rather cut a finger off than have a bad day at the office playing football.”
Smith always seems to be making something happen. He recovered a fumble in the opener at Arkansas and returned it 49 yards — the Gamecocks’ longest since 2001 — and in the Chattanooga game he forced a fumble that Pierre Warren scooped up and returned 75 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
“We put emphasis on everyone getting to the ball and swarming to the football,” senior linebacker Nick Johnson said. “Spiderman is the core to that.”
Wealth and fame, he’s ignored
Action is his reward
Smith’s fast-paced style goes back to his high school days where the theme was no man can take them down.
He told The Star earlier this year he goes into every game with a mindset of hating everybody on the other side of the ball and to “bring contact and play fierce.” He derives his greatest satisfaction from seeing an opponent lose their pride and confidence after the constant pounding from Spiderman and the boys.
“I personally believe no matter how big somebody is, how fast they are, if you do something full speed and believe in yourself, you can take them down,” Smith said. “Once you see somebody’s accolades and they think they’re Superman, you can be their kyrptonite.
“You can tell if they’re scared of you when they start making errors. You always notice it toward the end of the game, once you keep on hitting and making contact and they see you’re not going to give up.”
To him, life is great big bang up
Wherever there’s a hang up
You’ll find the Spiderman
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.