COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Permian graduate, Texas Tech sophomore Des Smith helps Red Raiders’ defense shine at scrimmage

MIDLAND A year ago, Des Smith sat in the second row as a spectator and watched his future Texas Tech teammates during their scrimmage at Grande Communications Stadium.

Smith, a Permian graduate, didn’t have a seat in the stands on Saturday. The 6-foot-2, 193-pound sophomore cornerback took part in nearly half of the total snaps with either the first- or second-team defense.

That Texas Tech defense opened the scrimmage with four straight three-and-out series and collected four sacks en route to 50-36 victory over the offense.

“The coaches do a real good job of always getting reps to all the guys and mixing things in,” Smith said playing with the first- and second-team defenses. “Building team chemistry with different guys and working with other guys that you’re not used to working with.”

Smith played in seven games as a true freshman for the Red Raiders during their 2016 campaign. He concluded his freshman season with 16 tackles, which included 12 solo. Smith posted a season-high six tackles — five solo — during Texas Tech’s 55-19 victory against Kansas in week four.

After the scrimmage, Smith took a moment to meet with family, friends and fans.

Smith didn’t let his supporters down during the scrimmage as he recorded two tackles and one pass breakup in the end zone.

“My family wouldn’t be able to go out to East Texas or far away from here,” Smith said. “Having them close is a real good support system for me. I do everything for them.”

Smith walked into Grande Communications Stadium with plenty of fond memories when he was a member of the Permian football team. Smith helped the Panthers grab 59-0 and 45-28 victories over Midland High and Midland Lee during his senior and junior seasons, respectively.

However, as Midland Lee graduate and Texas Tech senior defensive lineman Talor Nunez stated, high school rivalries are cast aside when each player puts on the Red Raider uniform.

“We are teammates 100 percent,” Nunez said. “We might throw out some stuff from the past, but you realize that you are teammates.”

Despite the consensus of unity, that doesn’t mean teammates will take it easy on each other.

That was evident when Dylan Cantrell and Smith both leaped for a jump ball. Cantrell, a 6-3, 220-pound senior wide receiver, wrestled the ball away from Smith for a touchdown. The senior receiver from Whitehouse spoke highly of Smith after the scrimmage.

“The quarterbacks have confidence in us to go up and make a play,” said Cantrell, who finished with 58 catches for 675 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 starts as a junior. “Des has been killing it all spring. He’s a tough defender. He’s gotten a lot better, getting a year of experience under his belt. He played good defense and I just went up and made a play on it. It goes both ways sometimes.”

As a senior in high school, Smith wanted to play against the top receivers in the country and he felt the Big 12 was the spot to accomplish that task.

Three of the top 10 schools with the most passing yards in the FBS were in the Big 12, which included a group of receivers that Smith faced every day in practice. Texas Tech finished with the highest receiving mark of 5,556 yards in the FBS. The Red Raiders returned their top four receivers — Jonathan Giles, Cameron Batson, Keke Coutee and Cantrell — from 2016.

Smith’s willingness to go toe-to-toe with some of top receivers in the country hasn’t been lost according to Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

“He’s a tough kid,” Kingsbury said about Smith. “He’s real physical and very tough. He wants to fight every snap, and that’s what you want. He’s a hard-nosed, tough kid. We’ve got to continue to develop him in the weight room, but he’s got a chance.”

Smith wasn’t the only Permian graduate on the field for Texas Tech.

Jax Welch, who graduated with Smith in 2016, has walked on and was listed as a redshirt freshman defensive back. Welch was one of three captains for the Panthers in 2015 when they opened the season with nine straight victories and were ranked in the Class 6A Associated Press top 10 poll.

The Red Raiders finished 5-7 last year, but of those seven losses four were within a touchdown. Texas Tech opens the regular season with Eastern Washington on Sept. 2 at Jones AT&T Stadium.

However, Smith senses a renew atmosphere in the locker room as the team prepares for the 2017 season.

“This upcoming season is going to be something special,” Smith said. “I feel a different type of vibe around here and I love it. I love everything I’m seeing from my team and my coaches. Everything at Texas Tech is on full go. I’m excited.”

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