Warriors safety Spencer Smith has become that guy, a leader who put his teammates -- and ultimately his team -- ahead of himself
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 22, 2010
It took an injury for Hawaii football player Spencer Smith to conclude he would be better in the role of leader than in a leading role.
While continuing to recover from a fractured right forearm, Smith has served as a mentor to freshman John Hardy-Tuliau.
When Smith is not playing, he is the de facto assistant coach.
"I'll tell Spencer: 'Just watch John,' " associate head coach Rich Miano said. "Spencer has done a good job mentoring John all season long. I know John looks up to his work ethic."
After being named the Warriors' top defensive player for the 2009 season, Smith had high aspirations entering his senior year. He was UH's starting strong safety, and played the rover-like position known as "quarter."
But Smith injured his forearm in the second game. He didn't play again for another eight weeks, but lasted only one defensive series against Boise State.
"After that, I wasn't sure if I would be OK," Smith said. But his health improved during the ensuing week's bye.
Smith acknowledges Hardy-Tuliau is having a breakout season. The Warriors had changed their base defense to include Hardy-Tuliau as the quarter. Depending on the situation, he could play in the tackle box as a linebacker or align wide to defend a wideout or slotback.
Smith has been given bumping rights over Hardy-Tuliau. Instead, realizing he still is not 100 percent, Smith has played about 15 snaps in each of the past three games.
"John has done such a great job all year," Smith said. "It's been his season. I don't want to take anything away from him. When my times come, I'll try to make the best of it."
Hardy-Tuliau said he is appreciative of Smith's guidance.
"Spencer helps me a lot in games," Hardy-Tuliau said. "He always looks at the plays to help me do better. He's like an extra coach."
The UH coaches project a bright future for Hardy-Tuliau, who might be used as a safety, cornerback or quarter next season.
"He's an athletic player, and a smart player," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "He's able to decipher things quickly."
At 5 feet 11 and 170 pounds, Hardy-Tuliau has set offseason goals of increasing his weight and strength. He said he has focused mostly on power-clean lifts this season.
"It's all about being physical in the weight room," he said.
Miano said: "John is tough, fast, quick and athletic. If he had only those things but wasn't smart, he'd be a good player, and we'd be glad to have him. But he is very smart, and that's what makes him a great player. The ability to get to the next level depends on how smart you are, and he's very smart."
Smith said he plans to participate in UH's Pro Day in April. He hopes that workout might draw interest from pro scouts. But if Friday's Sheraton Hawaii Bowl were to be his last football game, Smith said, "my whole experience in Hawaii has been awesome. I'm doing some of the things a lot of people won't ever do in their lifetime. I've been blessed. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe my arm breaking will take me to better things than if it didn't break."