Hornet notebook: Grad transfer Smith gives DSU boost on defensive line

Jason Smith

DOVER — What Jason Smith lacked in apparel at the Delaware State spring game, he more than made up for in enthusiasm.

The graduate transfer was looking for a place to play for his final season of eligibility. His visit to the spring game sealed it — the defensive lineman wanted to be a Hornet.

“I didn’t have a DelState jersey but I was out there cheering on the guys,” Smith recalled. “I fell in love. It carried over to when I stepped on campus in August. I haven’t looked back since.”

Smith graduated from Marshall University in the spring and has given the Delaware State defensive line a boost as the Hornets have won back-to-back games for the first time since 2013. They carry that win streak into Saturday’s road contest at Morgan State (1:05 p.m.).

As one of only three senior starters on the Hornet defense, first-year coach Rod Milstead said the team needed someone with Smith’s experience to join the team.

“He means everything,” Milstead said. “He’s like a coach on the field. He brings a different energy. He shows the younger guys how to practice and how to get over adversity. That’s why this thing has taken off the way that it is.”

Smith, from Hackensack, N.J., played at Marshall in 2016 and 2017. He was a highly-sought after recruit and chose the Thundering Herd over offers from Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Illinois, Ohio, Bowling Green, Toledo and Akron.

Smith recorded a combined 35 tackles in 23 total games while at Marshall.

He’s played in all nine games so far for the Hornets and is second among defensive linemen with 25 tackles. He also has 1.5 tackles per loss and a sack.

But above all else, Smith realizes how fortunate he is to still be playing football at this stage of his career.

“When I talk about this I know I how blessed I am,” Smith said. “I could’ve been one of those guys who just went off to the wayside. But coach Milstead wanted to take a shot on me and I’m so appreciative of that man.”

“I love him to death,” Smith added about Milstead. “He gave me one more shot. I want to give it my all and just ball out for my brothers. He’s trying to change the culture here and I’m all about that.”

Smith received a scare early in training camp when he injured his arm during a drill.

But that was not going to deter him from completing his last year of eligibility. Smith has been playing with a protective cast near his wrist and hand since the middle of the August.

And he never let the injury get him down.

“He’s having fun,” Milstead said. “He realizes this is his last year. He’s doing everything he possibly can to enjoy every second of it. I’m so proud of him and so thankful that he chose to come here. He could’ve gone anywhere but he wanted to come here and help build this.”

Smith knows there are numerous college athletes who would give anything to be in his poisiton right now.

“I’ve seen so many people not able to do it,” Smith said. “With my whole experience at Marshall, I watched my closest friends not being able to complete their last year after graduating. For me just being able to be here, being around the team and play football again is a complete blessing.”

O-line steps up

With high winds last Saturday, the Hornets were going to need a big performance out of the offensive line.

The line answered the call as DelState rushed for 233 yards in a 25-6 victory over Savannah State. The Hornets only threw the ball 14 times.

“People like to hype up skill players a lot but games are won and lost on the line,” said quarterback Jack McDaniels. “Obviously they’ve been doing a really good job the last two games and are the reason we’re doing well in our games.”

It marked the second game in a row where DelState out-rushed its opponents.

And one of the biggest pluses for the offensive line is all five starters will be back next season.

“We’re on each other in practice now,” said junior lineman Kaiden Crawford. “There’s no more, ‘Why can’t you make this block?’ because we can all do it. Yeah it took a little while to get together and we’ve been through ups and downs but the sky is the limit at this point. We can just get better. We’re imposing our will on people.”

Neibauer honored

DSU junior defesive back Jahad Neibauer and Tye Freeland of Howard shared the latest MEAC Defensive Player-of-the-Week award it was announced this week.

Neibauer recorded a sack in the endzone for a safety, an interception and 30-yard return, in addition to five solo tackles to lead the Hornets’ defensive effort last week.

For the season, he is second on the Hornets and 11th in the MEAC in tackles at 6.2 per game (56 total) and is ninth in the league in passes defended with eight (seven pass break-ups and one interception).

Neibauer is the third Hornet to earn MEAC honors this season. Linebacker Brian Cavicante was selected as Defensive Player-of-the-Week on Sept. 10 and running back Michael Chris-Ik ewas Rookie-of-the-Week on Oct. 29.

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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