The Oklahoman's Super 30: How football changed Tulsa Union star Antonio Smith Jr.'s 'life for the better'

TULSA — Antonio Smith Jr. is proud to wear his name.

He’s a junior and he lets everyone know about it. His Twitter name spells it: Antonio “Junior” Smith. His HUDL profile does as well. He even introduces himself as Junior.

He’s got his reasons. His father, obviously. But they have more than just a father-son relationship.

“We’re real close,” Smith said. “If he wasn’t my dad, he’d probably be my best friend.”

Smith is No. 28 on The Oklahoman’s Super 30 rankings of the state’s top high school recruits in the 2022 class. As a standout defensive back from Tulsa Union, Smith holds Division-I offers from Eastern Michigan, North Texas and Army.

“Football has changed my life for the better,” Smith said.

Smith has the “opportunity to attend college for free” and it’s because of his football skills but also, his father, who introduced him to the game.

“I was in second grade, and I was super active like always getting into trouble doing the little things and playing with kids outside,” Smith said. “So my dad just wanted to find something for me to do and he put me in football and it turned out I was really good at it.”

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Tulsa Union's Junior Smith is No. 28 on The Oklahoman’s Super 30 rankings of the state’s top high school recruits in the 2022 class.

As an athletically gifted player with a high motor, Smith quickly found out he was a great running back with excellent vision and was hard to tackle.

“I’m a joystick,” Smith said with a smile about his shifty abilities as a runner. “I like breaking ankles.”

Smith grew up in Tulsa playing running back in little league and middle school. But as a sophomore, Tulsa Union wasn’t in need of running backs, it needed safeties.

Smith looking to get on the field, took a chance on himself and did what was best for the team.

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He switched to safety, but he quickly had his doubts about his new position.

“I wasn’t really good at it because it was my first year playing it, so I had to get used to that,” Smith said. “Then as time went on, I got better, and all the worries went away.”

Smith didn’t just get better. One year later, he became one of the best defensive backs in the state. He has the numbers to prove it.

Union's Junior Smith poses for a portrait at Tulsa Union High School in Tulsa, Wednesday, June 23, 2021.

In 10 games last season, Smith recorded 50 tackles, 2 interceptions and one defensive touchdown that helped lead Tulsa Union to the Class 6A-I state semifinals.

“Credit to him that he was athletic enough and smart enough and have the tenacity to play that spot,” Tulsa Union coach Kirk Fridrich said. “It’s not easy to play safety and it’s a lot of checks and a lot of stress put on those guys, and he’s done it really well for a couple years.”

“He was just finding a way to help the team.”

But Smith didn’t forget about his "natural position”. He excelled in the snaps he was given as a running back during his junior season.

In nine games, Smith carried the ball 51 times for a total of 396 yards and seven touchdowns — 7.8 yards a carry.

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Now, with the backfield roster spots clearing up, Fridrich said Smith will “play tailback a little bit more.”

Smith is all for it. He’s been a team player and it helped him find a new position where he can dominate and earn college scholarships. He’s enjoyed playing as a defensive back. But he also enjoys playing running back. He’ll most likely have to make a decision on which position to play in college. But he hasn’t decided just yet on that. He’s not sure which position he likes better.

“It’s in between,” Smith said smiling. “I get tired if I’m playing one position. So, a mix between both.”

Junior Szn Tape S/RB

The Oklahoman’s 2022 Super 30

Name: Antonio Smith Jr.

School: Tulsa Union

Super 30 ranking: No. 28

Ht.: 5-foot-11 | Wt.: 185 pounds

Position: Defensive Back/running back

Recruited by: Eastern Michigan, North Texas and Army

About the series

The Oklahoman’s Super 30 feature series will spotlight each high school football player on the Super 30 recruit rankings for the 2022 class. The series continued Friday with No. 28, Tulsa Union’s Antonio Smith Jr. See Nos. 27 on the list in Saturday’s editions of The Oklahoman. Here are the players we’ve featured so far:

No. 30: Carson May, QB, Jones

No. 29: Lane Parks, OL, Yukon

No. 28: Antonio Smith Jr., DB/RB, Tulsa Union