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Clemson Chad Smith

Linebacker Chad Smith and the Clemson defense had lots of reasons to celebrate the performance against Auburn.

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CLEMSON — The No. 2 Clemson Tigers will celebrate their 24th Military Appreciation Day Saturday (12:20 p.m., ACC Network) as they play host to The Citadel Bulldogs.

The history of Clemson’s special day honoring those having served dates back to the 1994 season when the Tigers had a special flyover of F-16 fighter jets from Shaw Air Force Base. The Tigers have used the game in November, or when playing a school with a military tradition, to recognize those having served in the armed forces - -while also remembering Clemson’s own military heritage.

For a number of the players, Military Appreciation Day means something a little more than the donning of Clemson’s purple uniforms — which are worn once a year on Military Appreciation Day.

“It means a lot to me, actually,” Clemson redshirt sophomore linebacker Chad Smith said. “My family is big in the military. My grandpa was a World War II veteran and a POW. My dad served in the Air Force for about 25 years, a retired colonel. My older brother served in the Air Force. On my mom’s side, her dad was in the Navy. My uncle served in Vietnam.

“It means a lot for me. It’s a special day and it’s great to have a military appreciation and it’s a salute to those who serve overseas and sacrifice a lot for our safety and our country.”

While the players that wear uniforms to play games on Saturday and Sundays are seen by young and old as heroes for performances in a game -- for Smith, there is a more meaningful definition of a hero.

“(My grandfather) was shot down over one of the German-controlled countries,” Smith said. “He was the last person to jump out of his airplane and when he parachuted out, he landed and broke his ankle. Germans were there and he was captured.

“He served about three months (as a POW) before he was liberated by the Russians. It’s a big moment. Military appreciation means a lot to me and my family. He’s definitely a true hero in my book.”

Smith -- who was named co-defensive special teams player of the year last season with Tanner Muse and this season has amassed 16 tackles. 2.5 tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks -- has allowed his family’s military heritage to permeate his own life.

“He is focused all of the time. It could be the littlest things. Here’s Chad and this is the product of how he’s been raised,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Chad’s sister was getting married this past Friday in Atlanta. Chad came to me forever ago. ‘Coach, I know it’s Friday of the Florida State game and my sister is getting married at like 0900.’

“I just want to put my arm around him and say, ‘It’s all right buddy. It’s all good.’ He’s just so respectful. He has such a great respect for the chain of command and authority — it’s ingrained in him.”

Smith went so far as to give Swinney a detailed itinerary, down to the hour, of his trip plans and time of departure and arrival. Little did Smith know that his father had also sent Swinney an email — with the same itinerary — because that is the type of family they are.

“(Chad) had this whole itinerary and I was like, ‘You go enjoy your sister’s wedding and we’ll be here waiting for you Friday night,” Swinney said. “Sure enough, his dad followed up with an email, I know Chad was supposed to talk to you and (his dad) had the itinerary. They are a family of details.”

“I love Chad. He has a great respect for the process that he’s going through and what it takes. Just a very focused young man. Just a great family.”

While Smith’s grandparents will be unable to make the trip to Clemson for Saturday’s game against The Citadel due to their age, he will have the stories shared by his grandfather in his mind as he and the rest of the Tigers celebrate Military Appreciation Day.

“He’s awesome and it’s neat to hear some of those stories that he tells his grandkids,” Smith said. “Even my dad is like, ‘Wow, you never told me that when I was a kid.’ It’s really surreal. You kind of don’t have the words to come up with about how awesome a moment like that is. To see that’s my grandpa right there -- who served in one of the biggest, arguably, wars in the world -- it’s pretty awesome.”

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.

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