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The Detroit News is counting down the top 15 players on its list of Blue Chip football recruits. Today: No. 8 Tyson Smith of Orchard Lake St. Mary's.

Tyson Smith wanted a trip or two to Ford Field his senior season at Orchard Lake St. Mary's, something he didn't get to experience as a junior.

Smith was so determined to make sure St. Mary's had a special season after failing to make the playoffs the prior year that he became more of a vocal leader.

"I couldn't have asked for anything more," said Smith, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound defensive back who is committed to Michigan State. "Obviously the state championship was my highlight, especially since we were the first team to win it with a shutout since the early '90s. We had just a great defensive effort and couldn't have gone out any better way."

Smith helped St. Mary's win the Division 3 state championship with a 7-0 victory over Muskegon at Ford Field, limiting Muskegon to 168 total yards. It came nearly a month after the Eaglets lost to Birmingham Brother Rice in the Catholic League final at the same site.

"I think that game was a wake-up call to us, especially since it was the first time a lot of our players played at Ford Field," said Smith of the loss to Brother Rice when St. Mary's failed to protect the lead in the final minutes.

Wake-up call? You bet. St. Mary's outscored its opponents 197-28 during the five-game state playoff run. It was the first time Muskegon had been blanked in 200 games.

Smith said his game improved from his junior to his senior season.

"I think I was a better cover guy," said Smith, who has 4.45 speed in the 40. "I think I was also a better leader vocally. In the past I would lead by example — how I played on the field — but I figured I had to do something different, something had to change to make sure we got to the postseason and made a run, so I definitely became more vocal."

Smith's teammate, Brandon Adams, lost his mother to cancer just two days before St. Mary's' title game victory. Adams, a running back, scored the game's lone touchdown and dedicated the win to his mother.

"Even though we knew she wasn't physically watching the game, we knew she was still watching it, looking over us," Smith said. "Sure, it was in the back of everyone's mind, but everybody had to focus. It was a good way for Brandon to be able to keep his mind off of it, at least for a short period of time."

So now it's on to Michigan State for Smith, rated a four-star recruit by Scout.com and a three-star by Rivals.com.

"I grew up a Michigan State fan; a member of my family coached there — my uncle, Bobby Williams," said Smith. "I like the winning program they have. The coaches are very understanding and the players really like each other.

"When I took my official visit (Jan. 17) it was such an exciting atmosphere. All the players welcomed you. One thing they said was, 'To stay here you have to be able to compete,' and that's what I like to hear. I love to play physical and compete."

Williams was an Michigan State assistant under Nick Saban, then took over as the Spartans' head coach in 2000 following Saban's departure to LSU. Williams has been an assistant under Saban at Alabama the last seven years.

"I went to Alabama's camp two years in a row," Smith said. "I won the MVP award for the camp for my position after my sophomore year."

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

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BLUE CHIP COUNTDOWN

No. 8. Tyson Smith, Orchard Lake St. Mary's (Michigan State)

No. 9 Tyriq Thompson, Detroit King (Michigan State)

No. 10 Grant Perry, Birmingham Brother Rice (Northwestern)

No. 11 Dior Johnson, Southfield (Wake Forest)

No. 12 Alex Grace, Saginaw Swan Valley (Western Michigan)

No. 13 John Keenoy, East Kentwood (Western Michigan)

No. 14 Cole Chewins, Clarkston (Michigan State)

No. 15 Mike Danna, Warren De La Salle (Central Michigan)

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