Even though he spent a lot of time at Hollywood (FL) Chaminade-Madonna at the LB position, Keontra Smith was recruited out of high school in 2019 as a Safety. And as hybrid positions continue to evolve at the college level, the rising Sophomore appears to be making the switch to the Striker position for the 2020 season.
As a freshman, Smith largely saw action on special teams with the kickoff units and punt return team as he played 59 snaps in seven games. To that end, he was third on the depth chart at Strong Safety and was mostly featured on the scout team in a very talented safety class. He also played eight defensive snaps in the Bethune-Cookman game, where he recorded two tackles.
Going into the 2020 season, however, Smith should anticipate a lot more action as either a starter or in a featured backup role as the Striker position has been a competitive positional battle throughout fall camp thus far.
How Keontra Ended up at the U
Throughout high school, Smith hovered around 5’11”, 190lbs and consistently drew comparisons to former Cane and current Buffalo Bills Safety, Jaquan Johnson. The comparisons to Johnson mostly relate to the similar frame and physical style of play. Even more, Canes’ fans may have to do a double-take because Smith wears #4 just like Johnson.
According to 247Sports Composite Rankings, Smith, a four-star prospect, was listed as the 185th ranked recruit nationally (15th best Safety in the nation and 26th best player in Florida). In June 2017, Smith initially committed to University of Kentucky. However, that was before Miami made a bid on Smith in February 2018, one that Smith coined his “dream offer.” By may 2018, Smith flipped to the U over offers from Alabama, Penn State, and Michigan.
“It’s close to my family,” Smith told InsideTheU in May 2018. “All throughout my childhood it was a dream to just play at Miami. It’s a big school where big time players make big time plays in big time games.”
“That Turnover Chain is so inspiring. I can’t wait to wear it.”
What Smith Brings to the Canes
As a high school Senior, Smith led his team with 115 tackles, 31 tackles for loss, and 8 sacks. Chaminade-Madonna also won the 3A state title along with current Cane CB, Te’Cory Couch, where Smith was a punisher on the opposition. Smith also accepted an invitation to play in the All-American Bowl. During his tenure, Smith portrayed a physical and explosive presence on the field and he had the testing numbers to back it up with a 4.54 40-time and 35.7-inch vertical leap.
Smith does not shy away from displaying an aggressive play on the field by making big hits and is versatile enough to cover many areas on the field. In the expected Striker role this season, Smith’s ability to line up in the box and set the tone on short open-field tackles/passes will be amplified. Smith should be better suited when working towards the line of scrimmage based on familiarity at the LB position and better coverage capabilities in that zone. Against spread formations, Smith will be a useful weapon who can line up in the slot, in the box, or drop back into coverage.
“One of the most physical defensive backs in this class, Smith is a striker with twitch and suddenness to his game that brings an energy that jumps off the tape,” 247Sports’ Barton Simmons wrote about Keontra. “He’s an in-the-box safety in high school and we don’t see a lot of his coverage ability but what he brings in run support is special. His senior tape has been strong. The Miami commit has athleticism that checks out in a combine setting too.”
Smith’s attitude matches his physical play as he appears to be a fun interviewer with a flashy personality, as he looked like the hype man at his state championship game. He should be a fun media favorite with his confidence and, yes, swagger.
Smith has also proven to be a student of the game by dedicating himself to film and the weight room. He has been able to improve his strength as he current checks in at 215lbs, up 20 pounds from 2019.
Keontra, who is one of seven children, also has described football as an escape as he was known to struggle in the classroom growing up.
“My first word was ball, so just me being that kid who loved sports... I always played like on the line, so it wasn’t really fun for me at first, but I guess that’s where I get my dog. Football was just - when I played it was like the only thing I’ve been totally dominant in. It was the one thing I could always do and be OK doing it. It’s my escape... It’s just escaping the ‘hood. Growing up in that environment, seeing a lot of bad things, you’ve got to choose your own route. You can’t do what everybody else does, you feel me? I felt like I kept my head on the straight road and I was tunnel vision.”
Competition at the Striker Position
At this point, Keontra is in a tight position battle with Redshirt Sophomore, Gilbert Frierson. Freshman, Tirek Austin-Cave, has also seen some action at Striker.
Frierson has more experience, especially at the position, as he backed up Romeo Finley last year. However, the position could very well be a joint starter role.
“They’re both doing a really good job for us,” defensive coordinator Blake Baker said recently during fall camp. “Gilbert obviously has more experience there than Keontra, but Keontra has looked really, really good early on.”
Frierson offers a slightly different dynamic at Striker at 6’1”, 205lbs, and is better suited at dropping back into coverage, whereas Smith brings the physical presence. Regardless, Keontra will definitely be utilized on defense this season and it will be fun to see him bring a hard-hitting mentality to the Canes.