NORFOLK -- No scholarship offers, one opportunity.

Coming out of Maury, Anthony Smith talked to one school to pursue football: Norfolk State.

The Spartans offered him a spot as a preferred walk-on, he took it, and now Smith is a redshirt senior linebacker, a scholarship athlete and the leading tackler for Norfolk State (2-3 overall, 2-0 MEAC).

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The Spartans host Hampton (3-2, 2-0) at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Battle of the Bay.

"I'm a fighter," said Smith, who has 51 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. "I just can't quit no matter what."

Before he learned that, Smith spent his first two years on the bench or on special teams. Smith spoke with former NSU standout Keenan Lambert about whether or not to continue playing.

"I knew him from when I was growing up," Smith said. Lambert also played at Maury, graduated from NSU in 2015 and played five games for the Oakland Raiders.

"I always talked to him about any and everything," Smith added. "He just kept my head right and told me to keep pushing, so that's the mindset I kept going with."

Smith earned a scholarship as a junior and is now a graduate student.

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"You're very proud of 'Ant' because he's a different person, a different football player than he was when we got here," coach Latrell Scott said. "Our very first summer here, he made the biggest jump of anybody on this team. He doesn't say as much, but he is as physical as the day is long."

Smith helps lead a Spartans defense that is fourth in the Football Championship Subdivision in touchdowns allowed (four). NSU also is fifth in turnover margin (plus-10).

They face a Hampton team cut from a similar cloth. The Pirates are 10th in FCS in total defense, allowing 278 yards per game, and fifth in pass defense (144 ypg). Both teams have young quarterbacks still learning the systems.

NSU freshman Juwan 'Pootie' Carter earned MEAC Rookie of the Week honors following last week's 35-28 win over Florida A&M. Carter completed 17 of 32 passes for 164 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Junior Delmon Williams leads Hampton. Williams is in his first year in the offense after transferring from San Jose (Calif.) City College. He's thrown for 791 yards, seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

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"He's probably about where I expected him to be at this time in a new system, new wide receivers and understanding what we want to do," Hampton coach Connell Maynor said.

One challenge for Hampton's offense is not being deceived by the NSU defense.

"They bend but they don't break," Maynor said. "They will give us some yards, but they'll make a big play and they won't quit. They're gonna put a big hit on you and that ball will pop out. They're ball hawks."

Carter's test will be staring down Hampton's front seven.

"They're defending the pass very well because of their front seven," Scott said. "Our O-line has done a tremendous job not giving up a ton of sacks. We're gonna have to protect Pootie and run the ball when we have the opportunity to."

Freshman Shedrick McCall III got the bulk of the work at running back against FAMU, carrying 10 times for 31 yards. At 6-2, 235 pounds, he showed a power NSU hasn't had at that position thus far.

"It took him a little big longer to digest our playbook," Scott said. "He gave us a spark."

Also taking longer than normal is settling on a kicker. While NSU solved its punting problem with freshman Taylor Goettie, who has flipped field position consistently, the Spartans are 4 for 7 in field goals and have only one touchback in 19 kickoffs.

Freshman Josh Nardone was 4 for 6 in field goals and Scott allowed Bo Lomax to attempt a field goal against FAMU that missed wide right.

"It's gotta improve," Scott said. "We have a ton of confidence in both of those guys, but we need somebody to step up and take that job so we can feel comfortable kicking field goals and PATs."

Special teams could be magnified as Battle of the Bay games usually are tight. And by the end, one team will be in a prime position for a run at the MEAC title.

"I've had the opportunity to be a part of a lot of rivalries," Scott said. "Tennessee-Alabama, Virginia-Virginia Tech, but I wouldn't trade any of those experiences for the Battle of the Bay." 

This article is written by Ray Nimmo from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.