Had it not been for Michigan State swooping in and offering Eric Smith a scholarship to play in a BCS conference, the Groveport, Ohio, native might be playing football in the Ivy League right now.
"I thought about (playing for an Ivy League school)," Smith said. "But they can't give scholarships, they can only give partial money, and I couldn't really afford it. And the chance to play Big Ten football - I couldn't really pass that up."
The sophomore safety was being recruited by both Harvard and Yale. He left high school with a 3.95 grade-point average after being named his high school conference's scholar-athlete of the year and the top scholar-athlete in the greater Columbus area. Smith is now studying criminal justice.
He replaced former captain Thomas Wright as the starting strong safety and is now an integral member of the Spartans' struggling secondary.
Smith ranks third on the team in tackles with 29 in four games. He also ranks in the top five defensive categories - tackles for a loss (4), sacks (2), interceptions (1), forced fumbles (1) and pass break-ups (4).
Smith claims the last line of defense has improved its play over the past few games.
"I'd say we've improved from last week and just got everybody on the same page," he said.
Smith said the main reason his teammates have played better is their new focus on communication.
Smith said some of the keys to their improvement were, "Just talking in practice - like communicating just as loud as you can, at the top of your lungs and with hand signals."
First-year safety coach and defensive coordinator Chris Smeland said that Smith has made some individual developments of his own.
"Eric's made some improvements as the season has progressed," Smeland said. "He's had some injuries, and he's fought through those things.
"I'm looking forward to the day when he's 100 percent healthy and he's been in this system for a little bit of time."
Smeland noted that Smith and his secondary teammates have had a rough time with the defense changing this season.
"It's been tougher for (the defensive backs) to adjust in some ways because (the defense) is different than last year," Smeland said. "We're asking them to do different things and they're making good progress."
Another bump in the road for Smith's path to East Lansing emerged when the MSU staff member who recruited him, then-defensive back coach Mark Dantonio, left for Ohio State.
"It was a little bit," Smith said of the disappointing absence of his recruiter when he arrived on campus. "I liked him a lot and wanted to play for him."
Yet Smith discovered he liked MSU and wanted to don the green and white colors regardless.
"When I got up here and saw the campus, I just