Nov. 20, 2012
By Blake Barington
While many members of the Memphis Tigers football team had to adjust to the continued changes in the program that have taken place over the past several years, senior defensive back Cannon Smith was used to the constant change.
Playing for five different schools over the past eight years, including three high schools in three years, Smith said that although he had moved around quite a bit, it prepared him for all the coaches he played under in college.
"I was just learning new systems and stuff like that," Smith said. "It has kind of been similar in college because when I was at Miami I had two different coordinators there and when I got here I had a couple different coordinators. I haven't been able to come back to any true familiarity so it's kind of been the norm for me."
On Saturday, Smith and 15 senior teammates, will play their final game in Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Saturday's season finale against Southern Miss is slated for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.
Smith began playing on the gridiron at a young age, growing up watching his older brothers on the field.
"I started playing football when I was about seven years old out in the SYS (Shelby Youth Sports) League," Smith said. "Basically, my older brothers got me into it because it was the same league they played in. I always loved football from a young age."
Smith's older brother, Arthur, played guard and center for the North Carolina Tar Heels from 2001-05, and had an impact for him to get involved in the sport.
"My middle brother is the one that probably pushed me into the sport at such a young age. I enjoyed getting to watch him play when I could."
Smith played prep ball at Christian Brothers as a junior before transferring to Olive Branch for his final season. While playing quarterback for the Conquistadors, Smith threw for 2,314 yards, 27 touchdowns and rushed for more than 500 yards during the 2006 season. Following his senior year, Smith was selected as a Mississippi Coaches All-State pick and named Commercial Appeal's Best of the Preps Top-Five Offensive Players of the Year. Smith was also honored to play in the U.S. Army High School All-America Game and the Mississippi-Alabama All-Star Game.
He committed to the Ole Miss Rebels right out of Olive Branch before attending Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va., in 2007. Smith spent one year at Hargrave, breaking a single-game passing record with 476 yards and four touchdowns against Louisburg College on Oct. 14.
"When I went up to Hargrave, I reopened my commitment back up and started getting recruited by some different schools," Smith said. "I took a visit down to Miami and just loved it down there. I really liked the guys, the atmosphere and the history of the program."
After an injury at Miami, which resulted in playing in just one game, Smith returned to his hometown and playing for the Tigers in 2010 after sitting out the 2009 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
"When I decided to transfer, it was pretty open that Jacory (Harris) was their guy and the direction that they were going," Smith said. "I wanted to go somewhere where I felt like I was the guy. When I was transferring, I was looking at a bunch of different places and some bigger schools and was afraid of the same thing happening over again. Coach (Tommy) West and coach (Clay) Helton were here and those were guys that I had known since being a sophomore in high school and that I trusted. I liked coach Helton's offense and how it suited me as a quarterback - a wide open spread offense was suited to things that I did well and ran in high school. That's why I decided to come back here, besides the fact that it's home."
Being a Memphis native, Smith has received much support from his family and friends in his three seasons playing for the Tigers.
"My family has always been great," Smith said. "They're very supportive of my football career. My dad (FedEX founder Fred Smith), even as busy as he is, has hardly ever missed one of my games since I was a little kid. I've always been thankful of that. I have some good friends here that aren't on the team that come up and show support."
During the 2010 season, Smith played seven games as a quarterback for the Tigers with a career-long throw of 47 yards against Houston.
Beginning in spring 2011, Smith moved to the defensive side of the ball as a safety, starting 11 games that following season.
"I played both sides of the ball all the way up until my 11th grade year so I've always seen myself as a football player first," he said. "I was familiar with the defensive side of the ball and always liked contact."
Smith said his time spent as a quarterback has helped him on the other side of the ball since his move to the defense.
"I definitely think as far as the mental game goes, I know what I used to look for on the defensive side of the ball - the role of the safeties and coverage-wise."
Smith finished his junior season sixth on the team in tackles (51) and solo stops (32) in addition to leading the team in pass breakups with six. This season, Smith has been a key member of a defensive unit which leads Conference USA in total defense. He has registered 47 tackles, fifth on the team.
As his time at Memphis winds down, Smith says his teammates are going to be what he will miss most about being part of the Memphis Tigers football program.
"That's the type of stuff that all guys miss the most - just being on a team," he said. "Whether it's the highs or the lows, it's just about going through it with your teammates and your friends."
As his college career comes to a close, Smith is still unsure of his exact career path, but knows it will involve something to do with the sport he has spent most of his life playing.
"I have a hard time imagining something that doesn't have to do with football in some capacity," Smith said. "Whether that's coaching or whatever the case may be, it has been such a huge part of my life for so long. I figure it will probably pertain to football in some aspect."