Jesse Smith: Tackling a scholarship

Tommy Birch

Jesse Smith got his scholarship. Now, the sophomore linebacker wants to show coaches and fans he deserves it.

The 6-foot, 235-pound Altoona native walked on to the Cyclone team last season and was rewarded with a scholarship in August.

“That’s obviously what I was working towards – playing time and getting a scholarship,” Smith said. “I got there and I’m not stopping now.”

In the Cyclones’ nine games this season, Smith has showed no signs of stopping. The sophomore is second on the team with 40 solo tackles, and helped stop a Missouri offense that ranks seventh in the nation. In Iowa State’s 42-28 loss to the Tigers on Saturday, Smith recorded seven tackles while holding Missouri to 366 total yards on offense. With only one year of college football experience, he attributes much of his success to others.

“Our coaches have been really great with the transfer in,” he said. “They say, ‘do your job, do the best you can, and if you do that then you’re going to make tackles – you’re going to win ballgames.'”

Football coaches haven’t been the only ones aiding in Smith’s transition. The Southeast Polk graduate was a state champion for the Rams’ wrestling team. In the 2004 state wrestling tournament, Smith finished fourth in the 215-pound weight division. His consolation championship loss came at the hands of Cyclone teammate and redshirt freshman Taylor Mansfield.

“He’s just a great competitor,” Mansfield said. “I had heard about him going into the match. All around great athlete and very intimidating person. Going into it [he] just had that badass look about him.”

That look, Smith said, came from the workouts he went through during his wrestling days with the Rams.

“Nothing’s going to be as bad as that,” Smith said. “Wrestling is a pretty tough sport.”

While he’s given up his days in a singlet, Smith’s focus is now on football, where ISU coach Gene Chizik thinks he can still improve.

“I think the more he plays, the better he’ll get,” Chizik said.

As for his future, even Smith said he has high expectations for his final two years in Ames.

“Maybe a Big 12 [title]” Smith said. “We’ll see what happens.”