JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When former Aiken High football player Terrance Smith left the locker room after a recent home game to sign autographs with the rest of his Jacksonville Sharks teammates, he had ice bags taped to his ribs, ankle and shoulder.
A week later, he was back on the field helping the defending Arena Football League champions win the South Division for the third consecutive year.
And after that game, he appeared with another assortment of ice bags strapped to his aching body.
“I’ve gotten used to it,” Smith said as the Sharks prepared for today’s first round playoff game against Georgia. “It’s part of the game.”
Smith started at defensive back a year ago for Jacksonville. He was moved to offense this season, only to be moved back to defense a month ago to help spark the team’s late surge.
He leads the team in receiving yards and touchdowns, but he also has two interceptions and three kickoff returns for touchdowns.
“He means a lot to this football team,” coach Les Moss said. “Terrance has NFL talent. He can do so many things. He’s got a knack for making big plays.”
The Sharks won four of their past five games, including their final three, after Smith moved back to defense.
Although teams in the AFL build around their offense, Jacksonville’s defense has been the backbone to the current winning streak. Moss knew he needed something to spark a late-season rally, and moving Smith back to defense was it.
“It’s funny because he was the one who brought it up,” Moss said. “He said we were fine offensively. Maybe we’d be better if he was back on defense. I was about to suggest that, but he brought it up first.”
Smith will provide a new wrinkle to the Force (9-9). He played on offense during both regular season losses to Georgia, but Jacksonville will have a different look when the teams play at 7 p.m. at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.
The Sharks (10-8) have given up only 33.7 points a game since Smith moved to defense – nearly 18 points below the league average.
Smith’s experience at defensive back helped him at wide receiver since he knows how a defensive back thinks. Now that he’s back on defense, his experience on offense has given him a greater understanding.
“Every play I envision I’m playing against myself,” he said.
Smith played defensive back during his freshman and sophomore seasons at Aiken High. He was moved to wide receiver as a junior, only to go back to defense as a senior.
Another factor in Moss’ decision was to help Smith work through a litany of nagging injuries.
“It’s a big break on his body to go over to defense,” Moss said. “He was taking 20 shots a game on offense. That’s a lot.”
Smith has a sore wrist, knee, elbow and ribs. He also has two bad shoulders, two sore ankles and turf toe on both feet.
“We shut him down during the week,” Moss said. “I don’t need him on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (for practice). I need him on game day. He always shows up ready to play. And more than anything else, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win.”