This article was written by Kelly Patrick, a contributor with KentuckySports.co.
Hakeem Smith is a Sophomore Safety out of Riverdale High School in Jonesboro, Georgia which is about half an hour South of Atlanta. Hakeem wears jersey #29 is 6 ft 1 and weights 185 lbs. Hakeem played both Wide Receiver and Safety for Riverdale High School and was rated as a two star prospect by Rivals.com and also earned the Scholar-Athlete Award.
Smith was recruited by former Cardinals defensive coordinator Ron English and described his decision to become a Cardinal back in 2008: “It was the visit that did it,” Hakeem Smith said. “I explored the campus and stadium. We took a tour around to see the dorms and the weight-room. We talked with the academic advisors. It’s really a great campus. I love Louisville.”
After red-shirting the 2009 season Ha keem went on to truly shine during his freshman season which happened to be Charlie Strong’s first season with the Cards. Smith was named the BIG EAST Conference Rookie of the Year while also earning a second team All-BIG EAST Selection. Smith started 1 2 of 13 games (including the Bowl victory) and led the team in tackles with 88 while also recording 1 sack, 6 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.
After Head Coach Charlie Strong has came out and said “The strength of our football team should be our defense”, it is obvious he is expecting a big season from Smith who is the star of the defense. Smith’s presence will be especially valuable in a defensive secondary that will be starting two un-proven cornerbacks in Senior Anthony Conner (missed last season due to an ACL injury) and redshirt freshman Jordan Paschal. The other safety spot will be filled by fellow sophomore Shenard Holton.
The strength of the defense is projected by most to be the defensive line with impact players such as Marcus Smith, BJ Dubose, William Savoy, Roy Philon and Greg Scruggs. When asked if the lack of experience in the defensive secondary will reduce how aggressive the defensive scheme will be Strong said “We’re a pressure defense. And we’re not going to back down and we’re not going to back away. We’re going to always play man coverage and we’re going to pressure people. Now it’s just how good can we be outside”. Strong obviously agrees with the uncertainty of the CB position and feels it’s a large determining factor as to how good this defense can be.
One thing Strong doesn’t have to worry about (barring any injuries) is either of the starting safety spots with both Hakeem Smith and Shenard Holton returning after very impressive red-shirt freshman campaigns there will be stability and production from the middle of the defensive backfield.