Temple’s Nate D. Smith plays for a higher calling

Nate D. Smith has an NFL pedigree in his blood, and continued excellence on the Owls' defensive line could see him follow in his brothers footsteps. Credit: Getty Images Nate D. Smith has an NFL pedigree in his blood, and continued excellence on the Owls’ defensive line could see him follow in his brothers footsteps. Credit: Getty Images

Sadly, Temple linebacker Nate D. Smith’s biggest fan was not among the 28,408 who turned out to the Linc on a steamy Saturday to watch Navy use its potent ground game to down the Owls, 31-24. Kathy Smith, who died this past spring, didn’t get to witness her son’s team leading 13 tackles, nine unassisted.

As far as Nate D’s concerned, though, she was there for every play.

“Today she’d tell me, ‘Don’t let them boys touch you,'” laughed Nate D, who goes by that name to distinguish him from teammate and defensive back Nate L. Smith. “‘Get them off you and make those plays.’After today’s performance she’d probably cuss me out. I had a couple of errors. Missed assignments. Stats can mean the world to some people. I’d rather have team success. If my team’s doing well I’m happy.”

If Smith can lead Matt Rhule’s 1-1 Owls to a flock of wins this year he might even be happier than that February day in Jacksonville when Andy Reid’s Eagles drew first blood in Super Bowl XXXIX on a Donovan McNabb-to-L.J Smith touchdown pass.The same L.J Smith who happens to be Nate’s brother.

“That was breathtaking,’’ recalled the 23-year-old Smith, who was 13 at the time. “I felt like I scored, that’s how excited I was.I’d come to all the home games and some of the away games. When I told him I’d be coming here, he said ‘They’re gonna love you when you’re up and hate you when you’re down.’But I love the city of Philadelphia. They love their sports.”

Even if he has to frequently be reminded how the Eagles passed on Jason Witten in the 2003 Draft to take L.J.

Since coming to Temple, the 6-foot, 230-pound redshirt Jr. has made his presence felt, last year racking up 47 solo tackles and three sacks, third best on the team.With 17 tackles through the first two games this season he’s already building on it.

“Nate has a nose for the ball,” said fellow linebacker Tyler Matakevitch. “He might go the wrong way, but somehow you look there’ll be a pile and he’ll be in the middle of it.Nate’s a big key to our defense.”

But even more important to his Temple family.

“Nate’s one of my closest friends here,” said Matakevitch “After his mother died I couldn’t imagine how he feels.But he’s a warrior. He’ll fight through anything.”

But Nate D. Smith has managed to move on, saying his main purpose is to continue to make his mother proud. At the same time he’s watching his “namesake’’ whom he considers almost a little brother, grow up, too.

“At first it was hilarious,’’ laughed Nate D. “He’s ‘Nate L.’ I’m Nate D. When I heard he was coming here I thought ‘It’s so weird. He has the same name as me.’At first I thought we might be related. I was asking him questions about his family he asked about my family. He’s like my little brother.”

The Smith “brothers’’ will be off this week, with Temple receiving a bye before taking on Delaware State Sept. 20. By then the defense hopes to play more like it did in its 37-7 rout of Vanderbilt in the opener than Saturday.After all, this season, Nate D. Smith is playing for a higher calling.

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