TORONTO – When Northern Illinois cornerback Chris Smith flew back home Sunday, he was prepared for what he was about to hear.
The Florida native, who grew up less than a half hour from South Florida in Palmetto, Fla., was more than familiar with many of his opponents in Saturday's 27-3 Huskies loss in the International Bowl.
In fact, he'll see plenty of them after he flew back home Sunday with his twin brother Donald, an NIU walk-on, through the Clearwater airport, located just across the bridge from South Florida's Tampa campus.
Smith and his defense represented well throughout the first half, tackling well and containing elusive USF quarterback B.J. Daniels. But the one play that stuck out in Smith's mind was one that didn't go well.
Midway through the third quarter, Daniels emerged from the pocket after looking like he would be sacked before finding wide receiver A.J. Love deep down field for the game's first touchdown.
The Huskies were in a Cover 3 defense and Smith bit on the play while Daniels was scrambling. NIU also thought that South Florida's left tackle jumped on the play and NIU coach Jerry Kill later said he thought several NIU players hesitated on the play.
"I was supposed to be behind him," Smith said. "When [Daniels] started scrambling, [Love] got behind me and scored the touchdown."
Love also happens to be Smith's cousin, one of several USF players he knows on a very personal level.
The others were former high school teammate Mistral Raymond, Love and former Brandenton Southeast High teammates Faron Hornes and Dexter Baldwin along with International Bowl MVP Mike Ford, whose Sarasota High team played against the Smith's Palmetto team each season.
"When I go home, I know they'll probably talk," Chris Smith said. "[This game] meant a lot. I've got cousins, homeboys, a lot of people I know on their team."
The Smiths' closest connection to USF, however, was wide receiver Theo Wilson, who Chris Smith says is "like a brother." Wilson was raised by Clara Mae Smith, one of Chris' relatives.
"We used to stay together all the time," Smith said. "There are a lot of people I knew from growing up and playing football together since I was 8 years old."
After the game, Smith and his twin brother, Donald, took a little extra time chatting with their friends and former teammates. But then they moved on to the locker room they came out just as dejected as their teammates.
But they weren't surprised, they knew how good South Florida would be.
"I knew they were fast and I knew we had to play sound football," Smith said. "We were tackling and running fast and just getting to the ball [in the first half]. [In the second half] we came out a little sluggish. We were walking around and we weren't at the tempo that we're supposed to be."
Chris had a short chat with several coaches after the game and then thoughts immediately shifted to next season. Because, for the junior college transfer, that will mark the final college season for a player who took a long road to his Division I scholarship.
"We're going to be good," Smith said. "We learned a lot, got a little better and we've just got to keep getting better."