The 90 Illini #25: Kendall Smith
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Kendall Smith was the second player to commit to Lovie Smith. And it was only maybe an hour after the first. In April of 2016 (about six weeks after Lovie got the job), Ricky Smalling committed. And then immediately after that, Kendall Smith committed.
You know, I've always said that but sometimes I say things from six years ago and I've played a game of telephone with my memories since then and I have something wrong. I need to look this up.
Which is why it's crazy that he's appearing on this list in 2022. Five years of Lovie, now we're in the second year of Bielema, and Lovie's second recruit, who verballed six weeks after Lovie got the job, is still here.
25. Kendall Smith
Uniform number: 7
Year in school: Senior (1 year to play 1)
Height: 6'-1" -- Weight: 200 lbs.
Hometown: Bolingbrook, Illinois
High School: Bolingbrook HS
Five best offers: Nevada, Wyoming, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Central Michigan
Tom Cruise rating:
2021 statistics: Played in all 12 games, starting one. 13 tackles on the season.
Of all Illini players who have done the "corner-wide receiver-safety" bounce back and forth (and that list includes Kerby Joseph), Kendall Smith probably has the bounciest journey. A list:
- As a true freshman in 2017 he plays in all 12 games (mostly on special teams) and is a wide receiver.
- As a sophomore in 2018 he moves from WR to safety and plays in 10 of the 12 games (again, mostly on coverage teams).
- His third year, in 2019, he moves back to wide receiver and only plays in two games, taking a redshirt year.
- In 2020 he moved back to defensive back, this time at cornerback. He played in all eight games but that season didn't count towards eligibility.
- For 2021 he's placed at cornerback by the new staff (and was there most of the season). In November, he made the transition to safety and actually started at FS on senior day.
- And now, in 2022, because he redshirted in 2019 and 2020 didn't count, he has one more year of eligibility.
WR to S to WR to S to CB to S. Bounce bounce bounce.
He started the Northwestern game in front of Kerby Joseph (just for the first series, I believe). It was senior day, and Kendall was a "senior", so he got the start. But he had one year of eligibility remaining (because he only played in two games in 2019), so after the season, he put his name in the transfer portal. He then took his name out of the transfer portal and announced that he would use that final season here in Champaign.
Which, I think, tells us of the coaching staff's plans. All of the notes in that paragraph above give us the information we need. Who would be first up to replace Kerby at free safety? The guy who started in front of him for one series on Senior Day. Was the staff bothered that he entered the portal? Yes, they recruited him again and asked him to come back (while 20+ other players left, several not finding a landing spot). Does that mean the staff plans to use Kendall Smith as the starting free safety this season? I think so.
I don't think the job will just be handed to him. And when we drop from the three safety look to just a two safety look, I think Smith comes off and the two safeties are Quan Martin and Sydney Brown. But I do think Smith's sixth season in Champaign will be his most important. All of his experience might come in handy at the safety spot.