The last time Saivion Smith ran onto the field in Tiger Stadium, he was greeted with raucous cheering.
That won’t be the case Saturday night.
Instead of suiting up in white, purple and gold within the lavish Jeff Boss locker room, Smith will slide on a crimson and white jersey in a smaller locker room somewhere in the southwest corner of the stadium. When he trots out of the tunnel, he’ll be showered in a chorus of boos from the fans that once applauded him.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to pan out when Smith, a defensive back, committed to LSU over Alabama and others in February of 2015.
A highly-touted recruit out of IMG Academy, Smith was projected to be next in line at the school that asserts itself “DBU” (Defensive Back University). For a while, that at least appeared to be the case. Smith worked his way into the rotation as a freshman and played in LSU’s final seven games of the 2016 season. All indications pointed to Smith being poised for a big sophomore campaign.
Then came the Twitter announcement in the spring of 2017: Smith was transferring after just one season.
The former five-star landed in Perkinston, Mississippi, where he played a season of junior college ball at Mississippi Gulf Coast. During that time, he re-established himself as one the premier defensive back prospects in the nation. Smith went through the recruiting process again. This time, he didn’t turn down the Crimson Tide.
With Alabama losing its top-six defensive backs to the draft and graduation, Smith had an immediate opportunity to secure a starting spot at cornerback. Through two games, he did just that.
But he was then supplanted by freshman Patrick Surtain Jr., who like Smith, was considered to be one of the top corners in his class. Another setback.
Smith’s time was put off again, but only for three games, at which point starting cornerback Trevon Diggs broke his foot against Arkansas. Smith regained his starting role and has held it since.
“He didn’t complain,” Crimson Tide outside linebacker Christian Miller said. “He didn’t do anything. He just put his head down and worked, which is what you gotta do because when you see it played out you never know what can happen.”
When Smith makes his return trip to Death Valley, he’ll do so wearing No. 4 instead of No. 8, starting rather than serving as a reserve, and as the Crimson Tide’s leader in interceptions with three.
“He’s doing a good job,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We keep working with him. We think he’s getting more confident and has done a good job. And I think that it’s going to be important that our corners play really well against their receivers.”
The junior cornerback will be called on to help stymie an LSU offensive attack that is playing at a faster pace, and more spread out, than in recent years. Even though the Tigers are averaging fewer yards per pass attempt this season, Alabama safety Deionte Thompson believes the 2018 edition of LSU’s offense is more explosive.
“This is the best receiving group they’ve had in a while, Thompson said. “I know since I’ve been here. It’s the best group of receivers. They’ve got some guys who can stretch the field. Some guys who can go attack the ball at high point. It’s going to be a battle come Saturday.”
The battlegrounds are familiar to Smith, but he’ll return a soldier for the opposite side.