Lineman, former running back Smith getting even more accoldaes
Last season, Sutton Smith became only Northern Illinois' second consensus All-American.
He was a Hendricks Award finalist, given to the college football's best defensive end, and the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He set single-season school records in sacks (14) and tackles for loss (29.5) and even led the NCAA with 2.3 tackles for loss per game.
And those stats are jaw-dropping considering he was initially recruited to play running back at NIU.
"I screwed myself on that," Smith joked Tuesday. He was supposed to be the next Michael Turner or Jordan Lynch in DeKalb. Now he chases down ballcarriers.
The story on how Smith became a top-100 player in the country, according to Sports Illustrated, and the best defender in his conference, however, is far from a laughing matter.
It all started during his first training camp as a redshirt freshman.
"I was a running back during my first camp at NIU," Smith recalled. "The quarterback fumbled the ball, and the ball rolled back to an in-box safety."
Smith barely remembers who that safety was (it was former NIU defensive back Corey Kennedy, teammate Max Scharping reminded Smith during the telling of this story). Kennedy attempted to grab the loose ball, but Smith didn't let it happen.
"I cleaned his clock, basically," Smith said. "I hit him hard.
"The next day I was in (NIU coach Rod Carey)'s office to be changed to linebacker. I hit him pretty good. It was a level-him-out type of hit."
Smith played inside linebacker in 2016, making 15 tackles during his redshirt freshman season.
But he had developed a knack for getting to the passer, especially during practices. He kept beating NIU's starting O-linemen to the quarterback.
Carey and the defense elected to move him to a new hybrid defensive end role.
"They brought some linebackers down to pass rush, like blitz off the edge, and they saw I could rush the edge really well against our starters," Smith said. "So they started saying, 'Alright, we have a spot called Huskie on our team, and it's a hybrid linebacker/defensive end.'
"They wanted me to pass rush only, so it's worked out pretty well so far."
In high school – at Francis Howell in Saint Charles, Mo. – Smith rushed for over 2,000 yards as a senior, and the St. Louis Dispatch named him its All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year in 2014.
Already this offseason, Smith's picked up Nagurski and Outland Trophy watch list honors to go along with several pre-season All-American nods, proving that switch was the right call. Should the D-end improve on last year's effort, he could be in the running for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation's best defender.
And it all started with a routine play in training camp. Where the MAC stands on gambling
The MAC is concerned about how the recent federal legalization of sports wagering will impact college sports, Steinbrecher said.
"Serious consideration should be given to the question of whether there should be wagering on non-professional sports," he said. "Where will the line be drawn? Is this only intercollegiate football and basketball, or will it include virtually all college sports? What about high school sports or youth league sports?
"Will wagering only be permitted on point spreads and outcome of events, or will prop bets on single plays be permitted. All these issues have ramifications that need to be carefully considered by our governmental representatives."
Steinbrecher said most of these questions must be answered by the NCAA's football oversight committee over the next year, but he also said: "it is critical our (respective) states take a leading role in ensuring the integrity of the events." Should the MAC have injury reports?
Steinbrecher said, however, if gambling on college sports becomes a reality, there will be a need for some sort of participation or injury report provided by teams before games.
"Transparency will be imperative," he said.
During a closed-door meeting Monday, Steinbrecher said none of the MAC coaches were against providing weekly participation or injury reports.
"When I raised the issue, none of the coaches jumped on the table," Steinbrecher said. "I don't know that means whether they like it or don't like it. My sense would be... if everyone is doing it, they'll be OK with that."
The MAC wants to ensure it doesn't infringe on the privacy of each players' health records and that the reports follow Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Health Insurance Portability an Accountability Act (HIPAA) standards.
The league prefers participation reports over injury reports.
"On an injury report, you probably are giving more specific information as to what the injury is if there is an injury," Steinbrecher said. "Participation report, we may be just saying, 'This player is not participating,' and may not designate whether it's due to injury, eligibility or whatever the case may be." MAC supports NCAA rule change
Steinbrecher also said the MAC stands behind the NCAA's recent decision to lighten the rules when athletes transfer schools.
The updated rule says athletes no longer have to seek permission before transferring elsewhere. Now they need to only provide notice to their school that they're withdrawing.
Upon withdrawal, the athlete's name is added to a national registry that informs other schools they're eligible to be recruited again.
"The changes made to date are significant, meaningful and appropriate," Steinbrecher said.
DETROIT – #MACtion is about to get a lot more fun.
During his annual public address Tuesday morning during MAC Media Day, commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said he has sent conference-themed pirate flags to each school to raise at stadiums following upsets over Power 5 opponents or any non-conference win worth celebrating.
"Our ships or our stadiums are not always the largest or shiniest, but we are manned by highly-motivated crews, players and coaches who carry a chip on their shoulder, who demonstrate an anytime, anywhere attitude and if respect is not freely given, we will earn it and we will take it," Steinbrecher said at Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions and the MAC Championship game..
In the past, he's sent a mock-up "Jolly Roger" flag via email to MAC schools following big wins, sort of as a joke. Now he wants to make flag-raising a new tradition around the league.
"I hope we develop a fun tradition for players, students or boosters, whoever, taking part in this collective victory celebration," Steinbrecher said. "Let's collectively fly the flag."
The MAC will be using the "#flytheflag" hashtag following wins.
NIU picked to win the MAC West
The conferenced released its annual media poll Tuesday morning, and NIU was selected to win the West division over defending champion Toledo.
The Huskies received 15 first-place votes vs. Toledo's seven. They also received four votes to win the MAC Championship game. Only Ohio (13) and Toledo (5) received more votes to win the title.
NIU played in six straight MAC title games from 2010-2015.