FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith enters the 2013 season as the Razorbacks’ most decorated defensive player.
He’s been named to watch lists for four national awards. He earned preseason All-Southeastern Conference first-team honors. And Smith is one of three players — joining fullback Kiero Small and center Travis Swanson — highlighted by the Razorbacks on the cover of their football media guide.
Arkansas defensive line coach Charlie Partridge wants Smith to know the recognition is deserved. But he has an even more important message for his pupil.
“All this stuff will disappear if what you do on the field doesn’t back it up,” Partridge said last month. “Everything from his NFL potential, to his potential postseason awards, it’s all about what he puts on film, period. And it’s not going to just happen.
“He’s got to work as hard or harder than he did to get into this position.”
Smith said that’s what he’ll do as Arkansas moves into its fifth day of preseason camp, which will be the team’s first practice in full pads. The North Carolina native realizes he is in the spotlight after a honor-filled summer and plans to live up to the expectations when games begins on Aug. 31.
It will be the 6-foot-3, 268-pound pass rushing specialist’s second full season as a starter. It’s also his last chance to help lead Arkansas back to a bowl after the disappointment of 2012. So he’s determined not to let the notoriety go to his head.
“I just kind of shrug it off,” Smith said. “That’s one thing Coach P has taught me. Just to go hard every day and don’t worry about that. Because it’s all about your film.
“That’s one thing I try to get better on and work hard on each and every day.”
Smith showed he could be a dominant pass rusher in 2012 after leading the Razorbacks with 9 1/2 sacks and 13 tackles for losses. He enters his final season with 13 career sacks, which is 12 ½ shy of Wayne Martin’s school record.
It would take an impressive senior season to reach the mark, but Smith believes he has at least improved thanks to an offseason with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert. He added 15 pounds of muscle to his frame, which should help him become a better run stopper. Smith said he has embraced film study and fine-tuned technique, preparing to help the Razorbacks at a number of spots on defense.
“I want to be very versatile as far as dropping back (to outside linebacker),” Smith said. “Sometimes I work on the inside at three-technique, pass rushing from there, standing up. I just try to do it all and try to work hard at what I do.”
Arkansas safety Rohan Gaines said no one doubts Smith will succeed.
“He’s an animal,” Gaines said. “He just goes out there and plays hard. He works hard. Like he’s not good. He works hard to try to be great. I like that about him.”
Partridge agrees, but knows it won’t be easy as the applause on the back continue.
So he said the goal is to keep Smith from getting “caught up in himself.” Partridge has given his star pupil some homework to help keep him motivated this month.
He asked Smith to compile a list of the 10 best defensive ends in the country to understand who he is competing against for honors. That list surely includes South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, who is a Heisman Trophy candidate. Partridge doesn’t want Smith to settle for being the best defensive end on the field each Saturday.
“You have to practice like the best defensive end in college football,” Partridge said, recalling his message to Smith. “I think just constantly reminding him of those things will help deter from all the pats on the back he’s getting right now, too.”
If Smith lives up to the billing he can accomplish something that hasn’t been done by many Razorbacks the past few years.
Arkansas has had only one postseason All-SEC first-team defensive player in the past six years, which were dominated by high-powered offenses. Smith’s predecessor — Jake Bequette — earned All-SEC first-team honors in 2011.
Smith hopes his performance will prove he’s worthy of the recognition.
“I’m just blessed,” Smith said of the preseason accolades. “But it’s just motivation just to go even harder and try to end up winning one of those awards.”