If Bearcat football fans want someone to blame for Mark Dantonio's sudden departure from the University of Cincinnati, they might want to focus on Columbus, Ohio native DeAngelo Smith. The 1st team all-state defensive back from Independence High School was a member of Mark Dantonio's first recruiting class, and he may have done as much as anyone in making Coach Dantonio look attractive to the officials at Michigan State University. In front of a national television audience on the evening of November 18, DeAngelo made the play that probably changed the Bearcat season and maybe their future under Mark Dantonio.
As all Bearcat football fans remember, UC was leading the #7 ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights by a 10-0 score midway through the 2nd quarter, but Mike Teel had the Knights seemingly headed into the red zone for a Rutgers' score when DeAngelo Smith totally changed the game. Teel dropped back to pass but got pressure from Adam Hoppel. Instead of throwing the ball away, Teel tried to make a play by throwing along his own sideline. DeAngelo grabbed the fluttering pass and returned it 84 yards for a Bearcat touchdown. Instead of a Scarlet Knight field goal or touchdown cutting the Bearcat lead to one score, Cincinnati got out to a 17 point lead and the #7 ranked team in the country was unable to recover.
Those that have followed DeAngelo's football career closely weren't surprised. While at Independence High School, Smith intercepted 11 balls his senior season and returned 5 for touchdowns. For his high school career, DeAngelo recorded a staggering 20 interceptions and turned 7 into scores. But college football isn't high school ball so when Smith decided to join Mark Dantonio at the University of Cincinnati he had to face some adversity.
In 2004, the Columbus high school star didn't even see the field and was redshirted while spending time at safety. As a redshirt freshman, Smith appeared in 7 games and recorded only 1 tackle before being moved to receiver for spring practice.
Fortunately, DeAngelo was moved to cornerback soon after practice began this summer, but again faced adversity when he was taken from the practice field by ambulance after sustaining a neck injury during a fight with Earnest Jackson. Luckily, the injury turned out to be a minor one, and Smith lost only a week to ten days of practice. As a cornerback, Smith made his presence felt as he continually showed his ability to make big plays. Sometimes he would get two interceptions during one practice, but he was still unable to crack that starting line-up because of veterans like John Bowie and Mike Mickens. The Rutgers game was his only start of the season. Despite limited playing time, Smith recorded 20 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 2 fumble recoveries this season. Some guys just have a knack for making big plays, and DeAngelo appears to be one of them.
Even though the man that brought him to Cincinnati picked up and left, DeAngelo sounds as if the coaching change is just more adversity to overcome. "It's been difficult because I was recruited by Coach Dantonio. I liked how he was real. He was upfront, but Coach Kelly said he's that way too so I expect we'll get along well. I‘ve got to move on."
DeAngelo admits it‘s tough to predict what his teammates will do, but he‘s not expecting a mass exodus of current players. "It's hard to say because you never know. We have to work out some of the kinks, but if I had to guess how many might leave, I'd say two or three."
Coaches preach loyalty and teamwork, and players like DeAngelo Smith buy into those ideals. But when the coach suddenly leaves to make his life better, players are left wondering what happened to the "family" values. DeAngelo was so stunned with Coach Dantonio's defection that he wouldn't believe the ESPN reports. "I really couldn't believe it was true, but it stayed up on the ESPN screen as breaking news. After a while, I started to believe it, and I was hurt."
Friedrich Nietsche, the German philosopher, said, "That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger." For Bearcat football players like DeAngelo Smith, no truer words were ever spoken.