Oct. 9, 2001
By Mike Kreiger
There is some bad news for any opposing players who so foolishly go over the middle in hopes to gain yardage against Washington State. That area of the football field belongs to linebacker Raonall Smith, and he is not fond of other teams trying to impose on his territory.
Smith, a senior from Gig Harbor, is a no-nonsense linebacker who takes other teams trying to move the ball against the stout Cougar defense as a personal attack. Along with fellow linebackers James Price, Al Genatone and Alex Nguae, the Washington State defense has been a living nightmare for opposing offenses this season. As of Sept. 28, the Cougars had only given up 47 points, while the offense has piled on 128 points, to push WSU to 3-0.
Smith is the centerpiece of a solid linebacking corps. He is as talented as they come and has as much heart as any linebacker in the Pacific-10 Conference.
"As far as athletic ability, he's one of the best athletes on the entire football team," said coach Mike Price. "He jumps higher, runs faster and lifts more than most guys can."
Take one look at his numbers and it is no secret that Smith is a physical specimen. He is six-foot-two and weighs 240 pounds. He runs the 40-yard dash in a swift 4.45 seconds and owns a 40-inch vertical leap that would make NBA superstar Vince Carter proud.
"I just want to make plays," Smith said. "I want to be a leader out there on the field and play hard and get everybody excited and happy to be out there."
Smith proved his game-breaking abilities Sept. 8 against Boise State in the Cougars' 41-20 thumping of the Broncos. With 8:44 remaining in the third quarter, and the Cougars holding a 28-6 lead, Smith intercepted a pass and returned it 54-yards for a touchdown to put the home team away for good.
"In the corner of my eye I saw the wide out running a little slant," Smith said with a glowing smile. "I tipped the ball, grabbed it, and just started running behind my blockers. I lost my breath, but I scored my first touchdown since seventh grade.
"It was so great. I really didn't know what to do. I had a 'perma-grin' for a while," Smith added.
Aside from the touchdown, Smith has made several jaw-rattling hits that have knocked some sense into enemy ball carriers.
"That's every defensive player's dream," Smith said. "It's those kind of dream hits that make football so great."
Greatness might be Smith's trademark before he leaves Washington State, according to coach Price.
"He's got the kind of speed to make some big-plays," Price said. "If he stays healthy, he will be an All-Pac 10 linebacker and a high NFL draft choice. I'd like to see Raonall do well and get drafted as high as he possibly can. He needs to have a good senior year to do that. So far he has."
Before Smith graduates and awaits the NFL Draft, he has some important items to address on his agenda.
"I definitely want this team to win the Pac-10 title," Smith said with a firm voice. "We can go to a good bowl game. I really want to go back to the Rose Bowl because that was a great experience. So far we're undefeated, and I would like to keep that record going for as long as we can."
Price compares Smith to Cougar great and NFL Pro Bowler Mark Fields. They both have the size and speed to impact any game. Smith has also drawn comparisons to Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks.
"I really don't try to model my game after anybody else," said the confident defender. "I'm more of a speed guy, but I'll make the hits when I need to."
The communication major will graduate in December with a degree in advertising.
"I would like to go into sports advertising and work for a firm," Smith said. "I really want to keep a sports background."
But he might never have to work for an advertising firm if the NFL comes calling for Smith's services.
"That would be a dream come true," Smith said with a look on his face like the kid in the candy store. "I've dreamed of becoming a professional athlete since I was six-years-old. If I ever get that chance, I definitely want to pursue it."
Until then, Smith will keep chasing opposing quarterbacks and making running backs ache with pain. When this season is in the books, don't be surprised if the Cougars attend a bowl game and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue calls the name Raonall Smith in the April 2002 NFL Draft.