HOLLYWOOD, Fla. — The first time Keontra Smith was offered by Miami, the 4-star safety was almost ready to make his commitment official. Before he left campus March 24 for the Hurricanes junior day, Smith told Ephraim Banda to just sit tight.
“Stick with me,” Smith remembers telling the safeties coach. “I’m coming.”
The defensive back from Chaminade-Madonna in Hollywood just wanted to make sure he thoroughly weighed his options. He was committed to Kentucky at the time, so he knew the Wildcats well. He took an official visit to Michigan the weekend of April 14, so he learned about the Wolverines.
Sometime along the way he updated Banda. On Mother’s Day, Smith would make his decision public. He was committing to Miami.
Smith made the announcement Sunday. The strong safety flipped his commitment from Kentucky to the hometown Hurricanes.
— L O C K S M I T H ⛓ (@IronMan794) May 13, 2018
The Mother’s Day announcement was important to Smith. He grew up a Miami fan in South Florida. His entire family is full of Hurricanes fans — and it’s a big family. Smith decided to turn his commitment into a family event.
“I did it on Mother’s Day to make it special to my mom, stay home for her. She can come to every game,” Smith told DieHards on Wednesday after his spring game at Chaminade-Madonna College Prep. “I’ve got a big family. Why fly all of them out when they could just come right down the street a couple miles and watch me play at the stadium?”
Smith always coveted an offer from the Hurricanes. The No. 13 safety in the 247Sports composite rankings, he committed to the Wildcats long before Miami finally stepped in with an offer. Kentucky was one of the first to offer Smith last January, so he made his first commitment in June.
Smith’s junior year, however, was a monster. The 6-foot, 195-pound athlete piled up more than 100 tackles and 35 tackles for loss — leading Chaminade-Madonna in both categories — to help the Lions win a state title. Smith even added double-digit sacks from the secondary, multiple interceptions and a defensive touchdown.
The Hurricanes finally offered Feb. 16 and Smith told DieHards a few days later it was “a game-changer.” Now Smith acknowledges Miami was “most definitely” the school where he wanted to land.
“Coming up, that’s always been a school in my head that I wanted to consider going to,” Smith said. “I got the chance when they offered me, so I just had to look at everything before making the final decision, but I’m happy about the decision I made. I felt in my heart that I had to make that decision.
“Just wanted to make sure I’m sure. You just can’t jump the gun. False start.”
The Hurricanes also happened to provide a perfect fit football-wise. Miami may lose all four starters in the secondary heading into the 2019 season. Opportunity will be there for Smith, and the Hurricanes have a specific vision for him.
While Miami typically likes to recruit defensive backs capable of playing either cornerback or safety, Smith is an exception. The Hurricanes have a clearly defined role for the contact-loving safety. Smith will be the successor to defensive back Jaquan Johnson, who plays rover, Miami’s in-the-box safety position.
Banda’s pitch for this role sold Smith.
“He told me, ‘Football is played — you’ve got to be strong down the center,'” Smith said. “That stuck with me because I’m a fast dude. I play fast. I can play from the middle of the field, so of course that stuck with me a lot.”
Smith actually spent the spring playing running back for Chaminade-Madonna. Lions coach Dameon Jones knows what Smith can provide on defense. Smith turning into an elite halfback would give Chaminade-Madonna another significant wrinkle on offense. Jones knew Smith would be willing to do what’s best for the team.
— David Wilson (@DBWilson2) May 16, 2018
It made for an unusual spring, but also provided a bit of reassurance. Smith said he never missed a down on defense unless it was a blowout before this spring game. He’s more sure than ever he wants to be the hard-hitting safety he’s destined to be.
“It was a challenge for me because I’ve never been separated from the defense, so me being separated totally, it’s kind of tough,” Smith said. “But that’s the kind of stuff you have to go through to be a great player, to be a team player, for your team to make it to states again.”