Throwback Thursday: Dennis Smith

In this edition of Throwback Thursday John Chancey looks at a Clemson football great that hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves.

Dennis Smith – Safety, 1971-75

  • RTR 200 Ranking: 189
  • Six interceptions in 1974

It isn’t a surprise if you don’t know Dennis Smith’s name, even if you were a fan in the early 1970’s. As Smith himself noted in 2019:

“They didn’t even put my picture in the paper there.”

Smith grew up in Elba, Alabama, a small town south of Montgomery. He played football, baseball and ran track for Elba High School.

Smith started his Clemson career under Hootie Ingram as a wide receiver on the freshman team but moved into the secondary the next year. Following an injury that led to a redshirt season, he began the season as a backup free safety for head coach Red Parker in 1974. This time, the starter was injured in the 2nd game, and Smith had to step up.

Smith proceeded to make six interceptions in the 1974 season, which is tied for the fifth best season in Clemson history. Clemson defensive backfield coach Joe Burson said this of Smith:

“Dennis was just amazing. He simply learned to play the game himself after being changed from receiver after his freshman year and he is something. To say that he had a great year would be an understatement.”

Smith moved to strong safety in 1975. A preseason magazine that year described Smith as:

“a medium-sized lad 6-0 (six feet tall) and 170 pounds, but one of those gutty individuals that can make coaches like Red Parker look mighty good.”

You can see some highlights of Smith (#25) in this 1974 game at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, including a good pass defense at the 7:28 mark.

Dennis Smith came to Clemson football as an unknown before making his mark as a Tiger before returning to his roots post-career

Smith returned home following graduation, working as a recreational director for multiple small towns in the area, including Elba, until he decided to become a farmer. He was recognized by his community with induction into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame in 2019.

Smith may not have been a star on the team in his day, nor has his name become one often mentioned by Tiger football enthusiasts, but his 1974 season has kept his name in the Clemson record books.