30 In 30: Northern Illinois DE Sutton Smith

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Sutton Smith was the most dominant pass rusher in college football the past two seasons, leading the nation in sacks in 2017 and again in 2018. The key to unlocking that level of dominance?

“Not think about it,” Smith said.  “When you think about stuff like that, you don’t end up succeeding with it.  Putting that pressure on yourself, it’s not good for you. I just did what I needed to do and didn’t think about it, just played ball and try to play as fast as I could.”

Playing at a Mid-Major, there are analysts who don’t expect a player to experience simliar success at the NFL level, especially when comparing the competition level between a power conference like the SEC and the MAC.

“I don’t know why I can’t compete with them. I put up the numbers that I needed to put up to show that, especially against Power 5 competition,” he said.  “Just have to keep working hard.”

And work is what Smith will have to continue to do in the NFL — not necessarily because of the talent level but because he’s changing positions, transitioning from being an edge rusher to a linebacker.

“I just have to work on dropping into coverage and working on run fits because it’s stuff I’m going to have to do. Once I get to a defense and hone in on a defense…the rest is history right there. Go make some money.”

“My dad almost made it to the NFL.  He made it to Cowboys rookie camp but he hurt his neck. For me to be able to do the things I’m doing now, to make him proud, make my mother proud and my brothers it means the world because we’ve had great athletes in my family. For me to go all the way through with this and achieve my goals, dreams and aspiration you know, I think my mom and proud are proud of me.”

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