Cameron Smith was in a hurry to get to Los Angeles, but not so much to get out of town.
Never mind the traffic and hustle and bustle of a major metropolitan region that dwarfs all of Placer County, where Smith grew up and fast became a football star at Granite Bay High School. Smith could have declared for the NFL draft following last season, his third as a starter for the storied Trojans. He thought of the riches of the pro game. Who wouldn’t?
But Smith tapped the brakes on that as early as November. So here he is, broad shoulders, thick legs, shock of red hair and hearty, red beard, ready to ransack backfields again as a senior with plenty left to give.
“It’s my last go-around,” Smith said. “I’ve got one more shot to leave my legacy here. I strive for greatness. I’ve dreamed of being great since I first started playing. I like the sound of someone saying, ‘Hey, this is Cameron Smith, All-American.’ That sounds so good. That flows off the tongue really well.
“I felt like I had more to prove, that I could get better, and that I wanted to help this program win more games. And it’s fun here.”
Smith also stressed his academic purpose. He has one unit left before graduating, and he is already sizing it up with all the fury of a linebacker ready to cut a quarterback in half.
“I have an eight-week first-aid class, and I’m ready to dominate that and the football field,” Smith said with a laugh.
Smith has dominated his craft since he was 6 years old, playing for a Pop Warner team in Roseville and deemed the “Incredible Bulk” for his thick bodied look. Opponents feared him.
“He didn’t have a beard then like he’s had since high school but he was the biggest, strongest kid, the best one out there all the time,” said Cal senior linebacker Jordan Kunaszyk, who played youth football with Smith and excelled at Roseville High. “You knew even then that Cam was going to be big time.”
A preseason All-American, Smith is on the watch list for the Bednarik Award (nation’s top defensive player), the Nagurski Trophy (top defensive player) and Lott Impact Trophy (defensive impact player).
He’s already had “a great career,” according to USC coach Clay Helton. Smith has twice led USC in tackles and might have all three of his seasons had he not gone down to injury as a freshman.
Smith had 112 stops last season for an 11-3 team. He has 273 tackles for his career with a shot to become the program’s all-time tackle leader, a record held by Hayes Pullard with 373 from 2011-14.
Smith prides himself in how he prepares, be it yoga to stretch or film work to break down opponents. He watches what he eats and believes in what he preaches as a team captain. But the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Smith does have a weakness. It just doesn’t wear shoulder pads.
“It’s candy,” Smith said with a laugh. “I crave sweets, sour or sweet.”
Mostly, Smith feeds on ideas.
As part of the program’s leadership group, Smith and friends have been brainstorming on starting new traditions at USC.
“Something like in high school, where we had Thursday night dinners, or something like that,” Smith said. “We’re trying to do something this year where on the last day we all take a jump off the high dive at the pool. Something to remember us for, so years from now we can say, ‘Remember when we started that in 2018?
“I want to be a guy who’s remembered.”