COLUMBIA — Don’t ask Aldon Smith if his team is getting overconfident. Don’t dare question how his leg feels. And don’t even think about suggesting that his team has proven itself.
All he’ll do is give you a blank stare, his black eyes taunting you, daring you to push him further.
No, no, no. No, the Tigers aren’t too confident. No, his leg isn’t hurting him. And no, his team has not proven itself.
Smith returned to the Missouri football team on Saturday, just in time for its biggest game so far in the 2010 season. After recovering from a broken bone in his right leg, Smith returned with a force, making an interception and returning it 58 yards. He said he’s feeling much better and is ready to contribute as the Tigers enter a pivotal game against Nebraska.
Although Missouri’s defense excelled without Smith, having the sophomore defensive end back gave the team a huge boost. Smith, who had been anxious to return since late September, took advantage of his chance to get back on the turf.
“He just wanted to play so bad,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “What a big play. And he did a lot of other big things in that game.”
Pinkel said he was impressed by the number of plays Smith made in the high-pressure environment in his first game back.
Smith said that the leg was barely an issue.
“It feels all right, actually,” Smith said. “You know, it hurt a little after that night, but it’s getting better.”
Smith overcame whatever pain he felt and held his own at the line of scrimmage. He said that a couple of Sooners tried to take shots at his leg early in the game — until they realized Smith wouldn't let them.
“You’re not going to touch me,” Smith said.
In a game that was important not only to Smith but to his team, he said it was crucial for him to be out at the line of scrimmage. He wanted to have fun.
“It was amazing, you know,” Smith said. “I said this Saturday night, I felt like I was a freshman again.”
In the excitement surrounding his return, Smith didn’t want to simply have just another game — even though just another game for Smith might be a career day for another defensive end. He wanted to do something special.
“A lot of people, they talk about what they’re going to do,” Smith said. “I’m all about showing you.”
He showed everyone, for sure. With Oklahoma at the Missouri 14-yard line in the first quarter, Smith intercepted Landry Jones' pass and returned it to the Oklahoma 28, setting up a Missouri touchdown. His only regret: not scoring.
“I was tired. I was just getting tired,” Smith said. “Aw, man, that’ll happen again this week and I’ll be gone.”
Although he didn’t quite make it to the end zone on Saturday, Smith was still excited about his interception.
Pinkel said Smith is always asking him for a chance to play tight end, and Smith hopes his interception will persuade the coach. Pinkel wasn’t convinced about Smith as an offensive prospect, though.
“He’s always kidding around about playing tight end,” Pinkel said. “After he didn’t score, he’s not going to play tight end.”
Smith said he’s not spending too much time thinking about his tight end dream. The game against Nebraska is at the forefront of his consciousness, and he knows exactly what he needs to do — exactly.
“Any person that wants to make good plays, they visualize the play they’re going to make in their head,” Smith said. “I do that before every game, try to visualize making that great play. If you can visualize it, hopefully it will happen.”
Maybe that’s what’s going on behind his cool stare. Maybe that’s what explains the conviction in his eyes.