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Minnesota Football: In appreciation of Terell Smith

The Gopher cornerback has put together a senior season five years in the making

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 15 Minnesota at Illinois Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Saturday is Senior Day for the Golden Gophers at Huntington Bank Stadium. It will be the final home game for the likes of Tanner Morgan, Mohamed Ibrahim, and John Michael Schmitz, players who have become the face of the program in their tenure at Minnesota.

Standing behind them, more comfortable in the shadows than the spotlight, has been Terell Smith.

Smith, nicknamed “T-Time,” has had an unconventional career with the Golden Gophers.

Recruited out of South Gwinnett High School in Snellville, Georgia, he started nine games for Minnesota as a true freshman in 2018, finishing the season with 43 tackles, eight pass break-ups, and one interception. You would have thought he was destined to be a four-year starter.

But then Benjamin St.-Juste transferred in from Michigan and settled into the starting cornerback spot opposite Coney Durr for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Smith only played in nine games in 2019, and saw his playing time further reduced to five games in 2020. He regained his position atop the depth chart in 2021, starting the first seven games of the season, only to cede his starting spot to freshman Justin Walley for the final six games.

Most assumed Smith would enter the transfer portal and spend his final year of eligibility elsewhere. In fact, many were surprised he did not transfer earlier. If you think about it, players in his position — freshman starters who subsequently fall from their perch atop the depth chart — often do. Certainly no one would have begrudged him for it.

For whatever reason, Smith stuck with Minnesota. We’re left to guess what his reasons for staying were because Smith is somewhat of an elusive figure. He has not been among the players who speak to the media after games, nor has he taken questions during the week. And there’s nothing wrong with that. His performance on the field has certainly done a lot of talking for him.

Even with Walley returning this season and a pair of transfer cornerbacks being added to the mix, Smith was undeterred. He laid claim to a starting cornerback spot and never let go. Through 10 games for the Gophers, Smith is fifth on the team in total tackles (34), fourth in tackles for loss (3.5), first in pass break-ups (5), and tied for second in interceptions (2).

As part of a veteran secondary alongside fellow seniors Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden, Smith has helped Minnesota rank 8th nationally in passing yards allowed per game.

He has been making plays all season long. In the season opener against New Mexico State, Smith ended the Aggies’ last scoring opportunity with a fourth quarter interception in the end zone. Two weeks later against Colorado, he got a strip sack on a corner blitz on the Buffaloes’ first play from scrimmage. Most recently, Smith came up with a critical stop on fourth down against Northwestern, dropping Evan Hull for a loss to force a turnover on downs.

It’s been an impressive (and unexpected) showing from an unsung senior whose name may not draw as much applause as Morgan’s, Ibrahim’s, or Schmitz’s during pregame on Saturday, but whose resilience is more than worthy of your respect and admiration.