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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

C.J. Smith becomes emotional when he talks about his brother's rise in football.

The next step for Tre'Quan Smith is the NFL. A 6-foot-1, 205-pound wide receiver, Tre'Quan Smith recently declared for the draft after finishing his career at Central Florida this past season with 22 touchdowns and 2,748 receiving yards.

Dreams are becoming reality, and it's all moving so fast.

"Everybody in my family says I'm up next," says C.J. Smith, a 6-3, 190-pound safety from West Palm Beach, Florida, who on Dec. 10 verbally committed to Nebraska and Wednesday will sign a national letter of intent with the school.

C.J. Smith, in fact, has the distinction of being the first player to commit to new Nebraska head coach Scott Frost, who took over at NU on Dec. 3 after spending the previous two seasons at UCF.

Make no mistake, Tre'Quan Smith holds Frost in high regard, a critical factor in C.J.'s decision.

"I know my brother wouldn't lead me in the wrong direction," he says. "Tre'Quan told me that (Frost) is the best coach he ever played for."

C.J. Smith spent part of Monday on the phone with a Nebraska official, finalizing plans for his arrival in Lincoln this coming summer. He's ready to continue his own story, which is impressive in its own right. A consensus four-star safety, Smith had scholarship offers from Florida and Oklahoma, among other schools. He pondered attending UCF.

While his brother was starring at UCF, C.J. Smith was turning heads at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach as well as on the summer camp circuit. He actually drew more recruiting attention than his brother, who was a three-star receiver at Village Academy in Delray Beach, Florida.

"C.J. looks the part more," says Rob Cassidy, who covers the state of Florida for "If I took my 7-year-old kid to a football field and said, 'Pick out the Division I player,' he'd pick C.J. Smith.

"I saw him for the first time two years ago at Florida State's (summer) camp, which was a pretty loaded camp. He stood out even from that group."

Smith, of course, is far from being a finished product as a player.

"Physically, he's not the kind of guy they're going to have to get in the weight room and beef up," Cassidy says. "But he's not a polished defensive back. That's kind of always been the knock on him, but he's got every physical tool."

Says Smith: "I feel like I'm just going off my athletic ability right now. But I'm to that point where I'm ready for (Nebraska secondary) coach (Travis) Fisher to teach me all the techniques so I can go by my ability and technique."

Tre'Quan Smith surely would approve of that sort of can-do attitude.

"I try to talk to Tre'Quan as much as I can," C.J. Smith says. "But I don't want to act like he's my girlfriend or something. I can't be bothering him all the time. We definitely check up on each other. But he's my older brother, so whatever he says, goes."

He says Tre'Quan tells him to be a team player and lead by example, and to always outwork your opponent.

There is one piece of advice that C.J. Smith may have trouble following — the bit about being patient and waiting for an opportunity to play in games.

"My main goal is to come in and start right away at free safety or corner," he says. "Either way, I just want to bring that South Florida swag to Nebraska."

In that regard, he enthusiastically tells you about his favorite player other than his brother — Jalen Ramsey, the Jacksonville Jaguars' brash and skilled cornerback. C.J. appreciates Ramsey's intelligence, savvy and energy.

"Even when the defense isn't on the field, I want to be the guy to keep the team going," C.J. Smith says.

The conversation winds back to Tre'Quan Smith. C.J. Smith thinks he could've been a good receiver — he had seven touchdown receptions as a junior at Oxbridge — but has a big-picture reason for choosing to be a defender.

"Everybody loves to touch the ball, but I wanted to be more realistic with myself," he says. "There are a lot of 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 receivers, but not a lot of 6-foot-3 defensive backs who can cover and make plays on the ball."

He's excited to show his talent on a bigger stage. He's also excited for his brother, who received an invitation Tuesday to the NFL Combine.

"I always knew since I was a young kid that Tre'Quan would be special," C.J. Smith says.

As his family says, C.J. is up next.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


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