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USC, Taft High School Alum Malcolm Smith Nets Super Bowl MVP Honors

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WOODLAND HILLS (CBS/AP) — Three words raced through Seattle Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith’s mind as he streaked toward the end zone in the Super Bowl with an interception: “Don’t get caught.”

That, Smith explained Monday, would be the “typical thoughts a defensive player (would have) with the ball.” And he heeded his own advice, going 69 yards for a touchdown on that play.

He added a fumble recovery later, part of a terrific defensive performance that earned him MVP honors as Seattle beat Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos 43-8 for the Seahawks’ first NFL championship.

Smith, who at 24 is the fourth-youngest Super Bowl MVP, was recruited heavily out of William Howard Taft High School in Woodland Hills.

Brian Godsey was Smith’s high school track coach.

“This dirt track you see here…he put some time in here, ran the 100 right down the straight away here,” he said.

Godsey said he never thought Smith would be a Super Bowl MVP.

“The thought never even crossed my mind,” he said. “Obviously to have somebody come from our school and be the MVP…just to have a Super Bowl…we talk about that.”

After Taft, Smith went on to a successful career at the University of Southern California, where the 6’2″, 215-pound player helped lead the Trojans to their 24th Rose Bowl title in 2009.

The former seventh-round draft pick made an immediate impact Sunday night after he returned an interception of regular-season MVP Peyton Manning 69 yards for a touchdown in the first half, recovered a fumble in the second half, and was part of a dominating defensive performance that helped Seattle beat the Denver Broncos 43-8 for the championship.

At no moment during Sunday’s action did Smith think he would take home the award — even if his teammates did.

“Guys were like, `You might be MVP,”‘ Smith said Monday. “And I was like, `No way.”‘

The third player at his position in NFL history to earn Super Bowl MVP honors, he spoke about feeling “fortunate to be a part of it” and “fortunate to get opportunities.”

Truth is, the Seahawks were the lucky ones.

“He’s one of the guys that plays with a chip on his shoulder,” fellow linebacker K.J. Wright said. “He almost didn’t get drafted. For him to come in, start from the bottom and work his way up to Super Bowl MVP, it shows how much character he has, how resilient he is.”

Sure is. And it was rather appropriate that a member of Seattle’s league-leading “D” would be the MVP of the Super Bowl, considering the way the Seahawks shut down Manning and Denver’s record-breaking offense, forcing four turnovers and holding the Broncos scoreless until the last play of the third quarter.

Smith joined Ray Lewis of Baltimore in 2001 and Chuck Howley of Dallas in 1971 as the only linebackers to be picked as the top player in a Super Bowl. Only eight of 48 Super Bowls have ended with someone who plays defense getting the honor; the last example was Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Dexter Jackson in 2003.

His older brother, Steve, was a wide receiver on the New York Giants’ 2008 Super Bowl title team and was at Sunday’s game.

“I just told him to enjoy the moment, go out before pregame and take some pictures and really enjoy it,” Steve said, “because you never know when it could end and you could never be back again.”

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas were first-team All-Pro selections this season, and both finished among the top five vote-getters for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Safety Kam Chancellor was a second-team All-Pro choice.

That trio of defensive backs is part of a talented secondary known as the “Legion of Boom,” and guys such as Smith often get overshadowed.

“You might have been overlooked,” Malcolm Smith said, explaining that he’s derived motivation from snubs such as not being invited to the NFL draft combine for top prospects coming out of college. “You might feel like you can make plays and never got the opportunity.”

But it was Smith who wound up with the victory-sealing interception at the end of Seattle’s NFC championship game victory two weeks ago, grabbing the football after Sherman deflected a pass in the end zone.

And then, in the biggest game of all, Smith’s pick-6 off a fluttering ball — after teammate Cliff Avril made contact with Manning during the throw — made it 22-0 late in the first half Sunday, and Seattle was on its way.

“I was like, `Again!? No way.’ I didn’t believe it,” Smith said, wearing a gray sweatshirt over his uniform.

He grabbed a fumble in the third quarter, too, as the Seahawks made sure the Broncos never made things interesting.

In many ways, Smith is emblematic of Seattle’s success this season.

First and foremost, he plays defense, the unit that is the heart and soul of the team.

He’s a young guy on a young roster, in only his third year in the league after playing for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll in college at Southern California.

“When you look at the guys that we have on this team, they’re all a bunch of misfits that fit together,” special teamer Chris Maragos said. “To see what Malcolm has been able to do is just phenomenal. He’s a great worker, he’s humble, he plays hard, he studies hard.”

Pegged mainly as a special teams guy, Smith’s speed and ability to handle both outside linebacker slots earned notice.

When Bruce Irvin was suspended for four games in May for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, it was Smith who filled in as a starter.

When Bobby Wagner was sidelined, and Wright slid over to middle linebacker, Smith got another opportunity to start. And when Wright broke his right foot late in the season, well guess who Seattle called upon? Yep, Smith, of course.

Then suddenly, on Sunday, there he was at the Super Bowl, in the right place and right time, as usual.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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