Considered by many as one of the top running backs in land, Michael Smith has served many roles during his five years as a Razorback. The one-time third-string halfback has furthered Arkansas’ reputation for housing electrifying running backs, but isn’t totally satisfied just yet.
Coming into the 2009 season, Smith knew this was it; he had one final crack to show the country what he is capable of on the gridiron, and he hasn’t taken it for granted. “It was a totally different kind of preparation [coming into the season] than what I was used to,” Smith said. “Expectations were the same; coming into the season I felt like I needed to take it to another level both mentally and physically. This determination led to an offseason workout regimen comparable only to those who are serious about their craft. “I spent tons of time in the weight room, tons of time in the training room, hours upon hours of film study.” Smith said, “I was just doing what I felt like I had to do in order to really know my opponents. For the first time in my life, I got away from the ‘read and react’ mentality, and really sat down and became a student of the game.”
Not only does Smith want to leave a mark in terms of his own success, he’s hoping that some of his work ethic will carry over to some of the younger guys; the running backs in particular. “There are so many guys on this team capable of being outstanding backs,” Smith said. “All these guys bring something different to the table, and when you have a coach like we do, they’re all going to get their shot one way or another. These guys aren’t just getting into the game as ‘replacements,’ they’re on the field because they can make an impact.”
Being the most experienced of the backs, Smith feels as though he is in a position to help the younger guys along. This hasn’t always been the case. He’ll be the first person to credit those who came before him for laying the foundation for what he, himself has become.“I can’t say enough about what Darren [McFadden] and Felix [Jones] did for me when I was younger,” said Smith. “Those guys were players. They taught me to be patient at a time when I thought all I wanted to do was go out and make a few people miss.”
In 2008, following the departure of his mentors McFadden and Jones, Smith stepped right into the feature running back slot and in an injury-shortened 10-game season became just the ninth running back in Arkansas history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. He ended the campaign with 1,072 yards on the ground, a total that ranks 13th on Arkansas’ all-time list, and also ranked second on the team in receptions with 32 which added another 298 yards to the Razorback offense. Smith’s 1,370 yards of total offense accounted for just over 30 percent of Arkansas’ attack a year ago.
A year later and Smith’s role has changed considerably. He is no longer counted on to carry the team with the emergence of Ryan Mallett and the Razorback receiving corp, but is still a significant part of what head coach Bobby Petrino and the Razorbacks are trying to do. Smith leads Arkansas in rushing again in 2009 with 360 yards and is averaging an astonishing 6.4 yards per carry. He has also grabbed 14 passes out of the backfield for 148 yards for an average of 10.6 yards per catch. All this while being just one of 13 Razorback players who have been credited with a rush and one of 17 Arkansas players to catch a pass, proving that Smith is still one of the Razorbacks’ top playmakers on a team that is loaded with offensive talent.