West Hall High graduate Steven Smigelsky is making an impact for the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga football team. Smigelsky, a third-year sophomore, played in all 11 games this season for the Mocs and recorded 11 solo tackles, three assisted tackles, two for a loss and a sack.
Smigelsky’s claim to fame this season was a tackle and eventual fumble recovery against Heisman finalist and Arkansas junior tailback Darren McFadden.
Times sports writer Corey Wilson spoke with Smigelsky while he is home for Christmas vacation about playing early in his career, the life of a college football player and future career plans.
Question: What has been the toughest adjustment from high school football to the college level?
Answer: The toughest adjustment that I have seen is that you just spend more time on football just learning the game. We usually spend about 20 hours a week on football. That doesn’t seem like much, but that’s on top of school work and stuff. We watch film everyday, we lift (weights) everyday and then we have meetings just about everyday. And then on game days, you take a couple days traveling and stuff. It’s just more time, but it’s time well spent.
Q: How much playing time did you see this season?
A: I got in a good bit this year. It was mostly off and on. When I got here, the guy who I was playing behind had been here for a while, but he was a senior this season. I played every game, mostly rotating with him.
Q: What was your most memorable game in the 2007 season?
A: In our home opener against Carson-Newman, Chris Johnson went down with a shoulder injury. Since I was his back-up, I came in and played the whole game except for the first two series. It was just nice to know that I could come in and realize that I still had it.
Q: What was it like tackling the two-time Heisman runner-up Darren McFadden?
A: You know, it was really cool. It’s neat how the players enter the field and make it all theatrical. But when you get out there on the field and you start playing — it’s just like you’re all football players. The best part of the game was when Darren McFadden was in at quarterback in their (Wildhog) formation, and they snapped him the ball when he wasn’t looking. The ball went over his head, and I planted my foot and took off and covered like 20 yards in two seconds and fell on the football.
Q: What was it like playing against an SEC school?
A: It was so awesome. There were 55,000 people there, and for me — the most I see a season is about 25,000. We came out of the locker room and it was just a sea of red. It was in their Little Rock stadium, and it was just awesome. It was such a rush when we came out of the locker room and everyone was booing us. You could see how it was a different level of football. When we got there, you could see the people parked and tailgating, and it was just a crazy atmosphere. There was just a lot more fan involvement than what we’re used to.
Q: What’s your favorite part of playing college football?
A: I’d have to say when you get in front of a big crowd. There’s just nothing like the experience of playing in front of 15,000, 20,000, 30,000 fans.
Q: What’s a typical day like?
A: During the season, I wake up and have one or two classes in the morning and then I usually lift weights in the afternoon around 1 p.m. Then we’ll go back to the stadium and have meetings for an hour, then we’ll have special teams meetings for an hour. After that, we’ll get dressed, walk to the practice fields and have a two hour practice. We get done around 7 p.m. It’s a full work day.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: Right now I am in a pre-professional biology program. I plan to enroll in medical school and hopefully pursue a career in radiology. I really want to be in the medical field doing something. As far as football goes, I hope to have a couple standout seasons, and that’s the only way you can get a look (in the NFL). But that’s so far-fetched I’m just focused on school and stuff right now.