Talking to Spencer Smith, it’s quickly obvious that he is a family man. But mention his brother, Connor Smith, and his face brightens, his eyes widen and a toothy grin takes shape.
When they were younger, Spencer Smith, a redshirt sophomore fullback, and Connor, a redshirt junior offensive lineman, played many sports together, including soccer, basketball and baseball. But football is where they have always shared their strongest bond.
The two played high school football at Colerain, a perennial public school powerhouse on the outskirts of Cincinnati, where they were coached by their father, Joe Smith. The brothers have since migrated 90 miles north to play at Ohio State.
“I’d say first of all, my brother’s probably my best friend,” Spencer Smith said. “That’s one of the biggest reasons I decided to come here in the end is because of my relationship with him.”
Connor Smith has truly relished the time spent with his brother even though they have always lived under the same roof and live together off campus.
“Me and my brother, we’ve been on every team together growing up,” Connor Smith said. “We hang out all the time; it’s really a neat situation.”
Considering all the quality time the brothers enjoy together, it comes as no surprise that OSU football is truly a family affair for the Smiths. Joe Smith was an offensive tackle and four-year letterman at OSU from 1979-1982. For him, the experience of playing OSU football has come full circle.
“It’s been great for me, but truly it’s about them, the experience that they get a chance to go through,” said Joe Smith, now a veterinarian at College Hill Animal Hospital in Cincinnati. “It gives you something in common for the rest of your life with your boys.”
The relationship between the two only seemed to strengthen on the football field, especially at Colerain high school. They were only on the field together for one season, but they did not waste any opportunity to line up side by side.
“My junior year, when we played right next to each other, that was an unbelievable experience just knowing that I had a lot of trust in him. It’s something that’s almost indescribable,” Spencer Smith said. “He’s got your back, you’ve got his back. It’s like a bond that’s even stronger than just a teammate’s bond.”
Now that they are at OSU and play different positions, the brothers don’t see much of each other on the field. But they manage to run into each other through alternative means.
“When we played in high school, we were together a lot,” Connor Smith said. “We’re sort of coached by the same people now, so we’re in a lot of our meetings together now.”
Because Joe Smith coached his sons in high school and was also available at home, the brothers picked his brain to get a sense of his football acumen.
“He always pushed us hard. When we wanted to be pushed, he pushed,” Connor Smith said. “He’s very knowledgeable. He was a very good model for me and Spence.”
Spencer Smith said his father was often a closed book when asked about his experiences playing at OSU. But Joe Smith always referenced an OSU coaching icon.
“He’s a very humble man. I’d learn stuff through other people because he was so humble,” Spencer Smith said. “But he talked about Woody Hayes. He was recruited by Woody Hayes, and he played his redshirt year for Woody Hayes. That’s who he came to play for at Ohio State.”
In Joe Smith’s mind, the brothers had enough of an innate desire for success that he did not need to get his point across often. However, that does not mean that he treated his sons differently than their teammates.
“There were a few times when I had to get after them for effort, and I certainly made it publicly known. Me and the [Colerain] head coach both had sons on the team, and we had to make sure we didn’t play any favorites,” Joe Smith said. “You actually overcompensate because you’re harder on your own kids, but you do that to make sure there isn’t a prejudice there with the other kids.”
For Spencer and Connor Smith, the coaching continued well after practice. Not only could they turn to their “coach” for advice on strategy and technique — but for guidance and life lessons, too.
“I talk to my dad, if not every night, six out of seven nights of the week,” Spencer Smith said. “He’s always there to encourage me. It’s good because he’s been where I’ve been. Maybe different positions, maybe [at a] different time, but when it comes down to it, the tradition and excellence of how good either of our teams were, we’ve been in a lot of similar situations.
“He’s probably been the biggest influence of my life, and he always has the right things to say. He knows what I’m going through, and it’s nice to always talk to him.”
Spencer, Connor, and Joe Smith might have gone through many of the same exhilarating victories and heartbreaking losses, but according to Joe, the game has changed since his playing days.
“Things were different then,” Joe Smith said. “There were more kids on scholarship, more kids to compete against. Spring ball was a lot longer. We didn’t have a mandatory academic day on Monday. We practiced every day.
“The time commitment was more back then, just from what I can see. I think the way the coaches have to coddle the athlete now is much different.”
But what hasn’t changed is OSU football’s tradition of excellence. Surviving the rest of the season will be tough Spencer Smith said, but he believes the team has a great foundation for success.
“It takes an effort to manage your time, but you have all the support staff around you that makes it possible,” Spencer said. “It would be tough to do it all on your own.”
Both on the field and in their family, support will never be an issue for the Smith brothers. They hope to carry their unbreakable bond to a national championship and use it to further the tradition of the OSU football family.
“The goal is to win the national championship. We’ve been pretty close the last couple of years,” Spencer Smith said. “The Big Ten championship is always one of our team goals. You win the Big Ten championship, you’re always in the national title hunt.”