Pete Smith

Defensive tackle Pete Smith and No. 2 UMHB host No. 14 Trinity today in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

BELTON — Referring to someone who tips the scales at 260 pounds as light isn’t entirely accurate. For Mary Hardin-Baylor defensive tackle Pete Smith, though, playing in the trenches at that weight has been an entirely new experience.

“I was nervous about how I would be able to play at this weight in college and not get pushed around,” said the 6-foot-2 senior, who shed about 55 pounds. “The first couple of weeks of practice, it was tough. As good as our offensive linemen are, they were moving me around and it was getting in my head. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t have great games at first. I decided I had to get it together.”

Smith indeed got it together and put to rest any concerns about being able to hold his own against larger offensive linemen. Utilizing techniques that maximize his skill set of quickness, agility and strength, he ranks seventh on the teams in tackles (26), fourth in tackles for losses (6½) and third in sacks (2½) heading into today’s NCAA Division III first-round playoff game between No. 2 UMHB (10-0) and No. 14 Trinity (9-0) at Crusader Stadium.

“My first few years, I was about 315 pounds. I was bigger and wasn’t moving as well as I do now,” he said. “I wanted to get to 270 and be a healthy 270. I was training so hard and doing different things, though, and then I looked up and I was about 255 or 260. I was nervous about it because I’d never played at that weight.”

It wasn’t as if Smith hadn’t been productive at the heavier weight. He saw consistent time as a backup and even dabbled in playing along the offensive line for a bit as a sophomore, a transition a less-nimble defensive tackle couldn’t have made.

“Some of the offensive linemen were getting kind of banged up, and the coaches thought I could be the guy to fill in. I was honored and did it for a little bit,” he said. “It was pretty hard because it’s so different. I caught on pretty quick, though. My favorite thing was to pull and get to hit somebody.”

These days, Smith is focused only on hitting opposing ball carriers, and that suits him just fine.

“My technique has gotten way better now than it was when I weighed 315,” he said. “You have to use leverage and use your hands and make sure your feet are in the ground or else you’re going to get blown off the ball.

“On the D-line, we just have to trust what the coaches are saying and the techniques that they taught us. We still have improvements we can make. That’s scary to know that we’ve done something right to get to here, and we can still play better.”

And when the final whistle blows and Saturday afternoons turn to evenings, Smith doesn’t shy away from eating the meal of his choice. After all, he knows what he needs to do to keep his weight at an even keel.

“I’m still able to eat what I want, but my calorie intake is less. I used to eat a lot and not worry about it because I wouldn’t get bigger than 310 or 315 because of football and workouts,” he said. “All I’ve done now is cut out snacking when I’m up late at night and small things like that.

“People ask me, ‘How did you lose all of that weight?’ I honestly just worked out and stopped eating so much.”

Opposing offenses have been the worse for it ever since.