BOLIVAR, Mo. — Coleton’s Smith journey began in Appleton City.

Well, kind of.

“I was out in the sticks, I like to say,” Smith said. “But it was a good town. I really got an opportunity to play, which was important to me. The coaches there and the players there are all still good friends of mine, so it was a really good opportunity and it was really special me growing up to be able to play there.”

After his high school career, he joined the Southwest Baptist Bearcats.

“I wanted to go to a place that wanted me, that wanted me to come there and play for them,” Smith said. “And SBU was that team. And so I took that opportunity and it’s been I’ve been grateful for it.”

But he still had something to prove. Smith started as a walk-on.

“I am one that is big on hard work and loves the weight room, whether it’s working out or being on the field and do an extra work or something that take that very seriously,” Smith said.

“Ever since he came here as a true freshman walk-on, came to every single workout over summer, drove from Appleton City every single day,” Bearcats head coach Robert Clardy said. “He didn’t miss a single one, showed us his commitment level. It showed his commitment level to his teammates and always put in the work.”

“I worked my tail off during that that fall and that redshirt season that I had and then ultimately got that opportunity the next spring to sign scholarship,” Smith said.

The adversity didn’t stop there. Season after season was cut short.

“I broke my fifth metatarsal the first year,” Smith said. “And then the next one was my collarbone, another, you know, playing through half the season. And then something happens and you know, you got to deal with it. And like Coach said, you know, we’ve been I’ve been through some adversity and everything, but, you know, it’s just all about bouncing back.”

“He’s definitely the standard for how hard he works and on and off the field and definitely motivates, like I said, offense and defense to keep working harder and just go all out on every play,” Bearcats quarterback Cooper Callis said.

This past fall was his first full season.

“I always told myself that I wanted to see what I was capable of if I could make it through a whole season,” Smith said.

He led the country with 162 total tackles. 30 tackles of separation between him and the second place finisher.

“It was a testament to my team, honestly,” Smith said. “It was an award for all of us. So it wasn’t it wasn’t just me. But being out there to go and play with them is it’s the most fun part.”

Now a senior captain, he wouldn’t change a thing.

“This is this is going to be the sixth year,” Smith said. “So I haven’t got tired of it yet, but I’ve been loving it ever since I’ve been a part of this team and we’re looking to do something special this year.”