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By KEITH TAYLOR, Winchester Sun
For Za’Darius Smith, winning a national championship is one thing. Competing in a league that’s won the past seven national championships will be another dream come true.
“I feel great (about the season) because I get a chance to play in the Southeastern Conference,” Smith, a defensive end, said. “I basically get a chance to play on television so my mom can see me and get a big feeling out of it. I’m just waiting for that time to get here.”
Smith has been waiting to showcase his talent on the field since arriving on campus in January as one of the top junior college defensive ends in the nation. He will be counted on to provide an achor at one of the two defensive end slots. Bud Dupree will be opposite of Smith, giving the Cats a solid 1-2 punch on the defensive line. Smith turned in an impressive performance in the spring game, displaying the traits he performed during the past two seasons at East Mississippi Community College. During his two seasons there, the Lions compiled a 20-2 mark and won the NJCAA National Championship in 2011.
During the summer break, Smith “worked in the weight room, studied film and worked on everything technique-wise” to improve.
“I’ve gotten a lot better,” Smith said. “I’ve been in the weight room so much and working (hard). I’ve found myself just getting bigger and quicker. Most people look at the spring game and tell me how good I am, but I don’t worry about that. I just worry about getting through this camp and getting the season started. I am improving and working harder to get better.”
Despite his success in the junior college ranks, Smith, who didn’t start playing football until his senior year in high school at Greenville High in Alabama, isn’t satisfied with his achievements at East Mississippi. He chose the Wildcats because of Mark Stoops’ pedigree as a defensive-minded coach. Kentucky defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh also coached Smith while the pair were at East Mississippi.
“Coach Stoops brought in a good program and that’s one reason why I came here is because of the way they work,” Smith said. “In junior college we couldn’t get that much work because we had so many people trying out and playing (football). We’re really trying our best to work as hard as we can here.”
He added that having Stoops at the helm has been a plus for the defense.
“That’s a good thing,” he said. “The one thing I’ve thought about with coach Stoops is how will come into defensive meetings and telling us what we’re doing wrong and telling us what we have to do right. We look up to him because of how his teams play defense.”
As a unit, Smith said the Cats have a chance to be successful on the defensive end, despite question marks at linebacker and in the secondary.
“We do have potential,” he said. “I’ve seen that myself just from watching film from the spring game, we’ve got a good defense coming along. Everything starts up front and we have older guys who are starting up front. We’ve just got to be leaders up front.”
He added the Wildcats can “win a lot of games” and said third-down defense will be the key once the season begins on Aug. 31 against Western Kentucky at LP Field in Nashville.
“We’re going to bring the heat and the whole defensive package,” he said with a smile.
Smith’s favorite part of football is the fourth quarter “when the game is close.” He also likes tackling opposing quarterbacks, but hasn’t developed a “sack dance.”
“In junior college, I just made a run back to the sideline,” he said with a smile. “I’m not going to say I don’t have a swag, but we’ll come up with something.”