Donovan Smith is a fixture in Tampa Bay, both on the field and off. On the field, he has started every game of every season since he got into the league in 2015 – a total of 64 games. What’s more impressive, he didn’t miss a snap all season in 2018. In fact, 2017 was the only season he’s ever missed a snap, suffering an injury midway through a Week Eight contest in New Orleans. He was back the next game and still finished with the highest snap-count on the team that year.
Offensive linemen usually have the highest snap count in a game other than the team’s quarterback. That is to say, when the offense is on the field, so are they. Where skill players shuffle in and out and defenses rotate a seemingly limitless amount of sub packages, offensive linemen remain. They put in an insane amount of work play in and play out. And Donovan is as reliable as they come.
Maybe it’s because he literally never came off the field in high school.
I’m not using that as hyperbole. He was a two-way player at Owings Mills High School in Maryland playing offense, defense and for a year – he was the kicker. No, I didn’t believe it at first, either. That relentlessness and love of football has now carried him into his second contract with the team that drafted him. And now that we’ve become familiar with Donovan as a player, how about we get to know the person?
Do you have a nickname?
It really depends. I get Don, Donno, Donny. College I was just Smitty or D. Smith. It really just depends who the person is, honestly.
You have a twin sister. Do you guys have that twin thing everyone talks about?
The only thing I have is like if she gets a headache, I get a headache or vice versa. In college one time I called her and I was listening to a song and when she picked up she was listening to the same song at the same part. But those are really the only stories I have in terms of that. Randomly the same things will happen at the same time – she’ll look at me and call me ugly and stuff like that [laughs].
So, you guys are close?
Yeah, that’s my home girl.
You guys grew up in New York, went to high school in Maryland, you went to Penn State for college – all very different than Tampa. How was it getting adjusted here?
The biggest thing would probably be the people. In New York you got a nice set of aggressive, assertive people. Baltimore was toned down in a way, but you still had that city vibe or feel and then Penn State was, well college. Then you come here where it’s more relaxed.
What do you do around here? Like what does Donovan Smith do when he gets home at night from a game or practice or meetings?
I’m a homebody, believe it or not. But after every home game, depending on the time, I’ll take whoever I have here to Eddie V’s.
Same meal every time, too?
Mostly. Lobster tails. Anywhere I go, lobster tails. From there, just go home, maybe play some cards with the people I have out here, my family and friends. Watch TV. Watch the game film.
You do that immediately after games? No break?
Yeah. Immediately. I’ll have a bad taste in my mouth if we lost and I’ll have an extra critique. Or if we won, I’ll have a good taste in my mouth and watch the tape and be super excited.
When you’re excited, doesn’t that make you want to go out and do something?
Nah, I be hurtin’ too much. My body will be sore.
Have you heard the analogy that playing in an NFL game as a lineman, offensive or defensive, is the equivalent of getting hit by a Mack truck as far as impact on your body?
Yeah, I’ve heard of that. I wouldn’t say it feels like that all the time – not a Mack truck, but like a little Sprinter van? Yeah. [There was a little bit of humor in his voice, but you could also tell he wasn’t exactly kidding, either.] There are times where you have that collision or whatever that it feels like a Mack truck hit you but um, yeah, I’ve heard of it and it’s true.
I can’t imagine. Then you have to recover. Say you play on Sunday – what if you have to play on Thursday that week?
Yeah, that’s one of the hardest things. I know for me, by like Saturday of the next week is when my body starts feeling fresher to play. But when you throw in that Thursday night game - Thursday is the worst day for me, honestly, in terms of my body because you get what? A 48-hour onset, you know you hurt something, but you don’t feel it until that much later because you still got adrenaline and all this other stuff. So, Thursday is when I’m hurting the most. Then you have to shorten the week 2-3 days and then go out there and perform. It’s tough.
View photos of OT Donovan Smith from the 2018 season.
You were a two-way player in high school, right?
Oh, you did your homework, huh? [Laughing] yeah. I played offense and defense, I never came off the field. Actually, one year I was the kicker.
Can you still kick?
Absolutely not. But the only time I came off the field was for punts because I wasn’t punting. The funny story is growing up, I had a left-handed quarterback, which means the blind side is the right side, and they said I wasn’t good enough to play the blind side of that left-handed quarterback, so I played the left side. But 90 percent of the NFL is right-handed quarterbacks and you know I just always played left tackle. For a spring game, I played right tackle in college but they moved me back to left tackle, so I’ve always played left tackle.
You moved on from the left-handed quarterback though and were protecting right-handed quarterbacks from there on out.
Exactly. That’s my comfort zone.
[And after earning a second NFL contract as a blind-side protector, I’d venture to say he’s pretty good at it, too.]
Speaking of where you’re comfortable - you also seem to be comfortable on social media. You like your social media.
[Smiles] I do.
I feel like there are good and bad aspects to being active on there. Do you find that you kind of have to take the good with the bad on this stuff? How do you deal with the bad?
Yeah, you get a couple of jerks that think they know everything and try to tell you how to do your job and all this other stuff. Sometimes if you have time to respond, I’ll respond. Most of the time I just look at it and laugh.
I think a lot of kids these days are having to deal with online bullies and the uglier side of social media – how would you tell kids to deal with this kind of stuff?
Just ignore it, honestly. They don’t know your life. They don’t know what you’re going through and nine times out of 10, the bully is going through worse things and they try to deflect that by picking on other people. So, really just don’t worry about it and brush it off the shoulder. Like my grandmother said, the one thing that you can do to a person that hurts more than anything is to ignore them. So, if you just ignore them and let them talk, sooner or later, what else can they do?
[That’s some sound advice from Grandma, huh?]
As far as your own social media goes, you’re often seen singing in the car on your Instagram story. You’ve kind of assumed this role of locker room DJ during the season, too, because of your wide array of musical tastes.
[Walking into the Bucs locker room during the season, you have no idea what you’re going to get on Donovan’s playlist. From Brighter Day by Kirk Franklin to Can’t Let You Go by Fabolous to even lesser-known artists like Bishop Briggs. It’s all I can do to keep from dancing half the time.]
Yeah, I love music. For me it’s a stress reliever. I like to drive and listen to music, clearly. It’s just a stress reliever because I was in band, so I listen to certain instruments. I’m just intrigued with how people put together a track and come up with the melodies and the lyrics and everything they write and put down obviously has to be something that they’ve been through or experienced. And it’s like who did that to that person for them to feel that way to write it? Or what happened there, so on and so forth. So, I just listen to everything.
You were a band kid? Tell me more about that.
I was in my school band and I played trombone. Me and my sister. She played the clarinet and I played the trombone. I started in fifth grade and then I had to stop junior year of high school because they have all these different competitions and it was interfering with me traveling to schools and visits and stuff like that, so I just had to give it up.
Were you any good?
I did aight for myself.
Would you ever think about picking it up again?
I have to figure out how to learn music again, learn how to read it. It wouldn’t take long, though.
Do you listen to a lot of jazz because of that?
Yeah, I listen to jazz. I listen to everything [he looks me square in the eye] I mean everything.
Alright, if you had to pick then, right now who is your end-all, be-all artist?
Oooff. It’s tough. It just depends on what mood I’m in. Right now, I’d probably go listen to something real chill, just vibe out. I listen to a lot of Kendrick, a lot of J. Cole, Fabolous, old school if I want to go Biggie. I don’t listen to much Tupac, surprisingly.
Well you are a New York guy, originally.
Yeah, I stick to the leaders of the new school, Onyx, I listen to everything.
Do you have a go-to artist that gets you hyped up for games?
Fab. Fabolous. I listen to Fab before games. I listen to Biggie before games. I listen to R&B before games. It’s kind of like the quiet before the storm. You don’t want to be too-too hype. Just chill out and vibe.
If there was a soundtrack to your life – and you can give me a couple – what artists or songs that would be on it?
Okay, don’t take this the wrong way but there are a lot of things that The Weeknd says in his songs that I can relate to. Even Starboy, there are some things in there that are kind of soundtrack to my life that I could put together. Drake because he’s young and obviously understands the young population and kinda been through it.
What are your favorite songs by these guys?
Every song by The Weeknd. Drake just about every song as well, honestly. Favorite song by Fab? I listen to a lot of History of Styles. If you want to go classic Fab you have Breathe. If you want to go new Fab with the Summertime Shootout and To the Sky, Vanilla and all his other stuff. Division, both his albums: Morning After and September 25 or whatever but I got it all.
And now he’s got it all in Tampa Bay for three more years.