By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Zach Smith just never could wrap his head around the possibility of not playing football.
The rumors last season suggested that perhaps the Mississippi State free safety had suffered one concussion too many and was done for good. And it’s true that Smith, who will be a senior this fall, has had his bell rung a few times since arriving from Altoona, Ala.
The most recent concussion occurred in the fifth game of last season, against Georgia Tech. But according to trainer Paul Mock, what kept Smith out the rest of the season were post-traumatic migraines (PTM) – severe headaches that occurred every time Smith laid the wood to someone head-first.
“We’ve talked to him about that,” Mock said. “In some ways he’s his own worst enemy.”
Smith (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) will try to adjust his style, saying, “I’ll probably try to use more of my shoulder pads instead of my face.”
But as he noted, the SEC does not suffer timidness.
“You can’t play in the SEC and be hesitant, or you can’t be thinking. You’ve got to know what you’ve got to do and go 120 mph.”
Plus, Smith’s ability to lay out a wide receiver makes up for what he lacks in speed and cover skills.
He’s been fitted with a new helmet that will hopefully give added protection to his noggin.
Smith is doing everything he can to get back. He ached to return to the field last year, and he said that was his only thought while sidelined. Quitting wasn’t an option.
“That was a rumor going around, but I knew I’d had two or three (concussions) in a row, and it got kind of like I was helpless,” he said. “I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I don’t ever want to miss any time; I’d never missed any games.
“To be in a situation like that, it’s kind of like you know you’ve got to sit out, and so that’s what killed me.”
At risk for more damage?
Smith has been going through spring drills. Today will be MSU’s fourth day of work, including the second in full pads.
Smith said he made some “big hits” on Saturday and feels fine.
“It’s not even an issue,” he said of getting another concussion. “Even worst-case scenario, if I were to get another one, it’s just like if K.J. Wright got one, or if (Pernell) McPhee got one. Everybody gets them.
“There’s been plenty of them, I just got them too quick.”
Mock said there’s a good chance Smith could suffer another post-traumatic migraine, though.
According to a 2005 study by the University of Pittsburgh Sports Medicine Concussion Program, high school and college athletes displaying characteristics of a PTM following a concussion “showed increased neurocognitive impairment and related symptoms compared to concussed athletes with no post-injury headache or non-migraine headache,” said a Science Daily article about the study.
Head coach Dan Mullen said the coaching staff will keep a close eye on Smith and “put him in situations to keep him healthy.”
Smith’s free safety position was adequately filled last year by a true freshman, Johnthan Banks, who made 33 tackles and four interceptions on the season. So less playing time would theoretically decrease his risk of further damage.
In new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s schemes, Smith would be blitzing a good bit and attacking off the edge, which he likes.
“I’ll still be doing what I’ve always done,” Smith said, “so nothing’s going to change.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.