COLLEGE PARK – Former Clemson University linebacker and Baltimore native Rahshaun “Shaq” Smith has officially transferred and joined the University of Maryland football team, the athletic department announced on June 10.
Smith entered the transfer portal on May 15 and graduated from Clemson in three years with a degree in parks, recreation and tourism management. He will have two years of eligibility remaining.
Smith becomes the fifth player to transfer to Maryland since Michael Locksley was hired as head coach. He also becomes the third player to be immediately eligible, along with Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson and Buffalo tight end Tyler Mabry.
The news came as a surprise for some, as Smith looked poised to finally start for the Tigers. After coming out of IMG Academy as the No. 81 player and No. 3 inside linebacker in the class of 2016, according to the 247 Sports Composite, Smith worked his way up the depth chart, recording 31 tackles, a sack and an interception in 29 games over the past two seasons.
With starting linebackers Kendall Joseph and J.D. Davis graduating, it looked like it was finally Smith’s time to have a big role. He made seven tackles in Clemson’s spring game, and Tigers Head Coach Dabo Swinney raved about his leadership skills.
“Shaq’s an unbelievable leader. Shaq’s one of the most respected guys on this team,” Swinney said following the spring game. “He’s unbelievable. Even though he hasn’t played as much, he’s one of the best leaders we’ve had. (An) incredibly committed guy on and off the field. Great student. He’s amazing.”
That leadership will be helpful for a Maryland defense that loses first-round NFL draft picks Darnell Savage Jr. and linebacker Tre Watson. Along with Ohio State transfer linebacker KeAndre Jones, Smith gives Maryland another player who comes from a successful program and knows what it takes to compete at the highest level.
“I like having a guy that comes from a winning program that has been a part of being successful,” Locksley said about Jones after the first day of spring practice on March 27.
With Maryland losing Watson and transitioning to a 3-4 defense, Smith will likely contend for one of the starting inside linebacker spots. Senior Isaiah Davis started alongside Watson last season, but missed spring practice. Sophomores Ayinde Eley and Chance Campbell showed potential last season and were impressive this spring and should push Davis and Smith in fall camp.
If Smith wins a starting job, he will have a chance to make an immediate impact as a playmaker like Watson and former Terp Jermaine Carter did before him.
However, it will not solve all the problems on Maryland’s defense. The Terps defense has been overpowered up front since joining the Big Ten and has been abysmal at pressuring the quarterback the past three seasons.
Last season, the Terps finished 11th in the conference in rush yards allowed per game (183.9) and 13th in sacks (18). With top pass rushers Jesse Aniebonam and Byron Cowart graduating and lineman Adam McLean entering the transfer portal, it could mean another long season for Maryland’s defense.
But if Smith makes an impact, he could be the perfect role model for potential future recruits. Smith moved to Baltimore at age 10, and attended Calvert Hall from 2012-13 and St. Frances in 2014 before going to the IMG Academy for his senior season.
Five of the Terps nine verbal commits for the 2020 recruiting class are from the metropolitan region but several of the top players in the area are still going elsewhere. If a player like Smith succeeds, it can show future recruits that they do not have to go far to be successful on the field.
“I want to create the right culture and environment, and winning will follow,” Locksley said at his introductory press conference on Dec. 6. “We have one of the best areas in the country for talent, and we’re going work our tails off to keep it right here.”