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Smith standing tall in the Arkansas backfield

BY ANDRES FOCIL
Smith standing tall in the Arkansas backfield

Michael Smith is a five-foot, seven-inch junior from Tallahassee, Fla., who spent his high school career at Rickards High School in Tallahassee. During his junior year at Rickards, Smith accounted for 1,413 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns while averaging 11.2 yards per carry.

Despite spending a lot of his time banged up and nursing injuries his senior year, Smith managed to pick up more than 800 rushing yards and close to 400 yards receiving. As a kick returner, he gained a total of 979 yards and scored seven touchdowns; fifteen total his senior year. Those lofty numbers led Rivals.com to rate him as the 13th-best all-purpose back and the 88th- best player out of the state of Florida.

Along with his football talents, Smith was also a standout in baseball. He hit .515 at the plate and stole 31 bases as a junior, and could have been a Major League Baseball draft pick but elected not to play his senior year.

With his choice made to play football, Smith was heavily recruited by the nation’s top programs, including Arkansas, Purdue, Florida, LSU, Auburn and Northwestern.

“I spent all of my high school career running the ball up and down the field, and it was fun,” Smith said. “I saw how Arkansas was running the ball and that they were No. 1 in the SEC year after year in rushing, so I wanted to go and be a part of that. That’s why I chose Arkansas.”

As a redshirt freshman, Smith ran the ball 35 times for a total of 247 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 7.1 yards per carry in 11 games. His sophomore year, Smith appeared in 10 games, rushing for 303 yards on 46 carries and three touchdowns. His average of 6.6 yards per carry ranked him second behind Felix Jones’ 8.7 average.

During his sophomore year against Florida International in Little Rock, Smith rushed three times for a total of 88 yards, including an 81 yarder. It was his career high as well as a Razorback season high, a major accomplishment considering he was playing behind two All-American tailbacks in Darren McFadden and Jones.

McFadden and Jones were both major influences on Smith throughout his two years as their understudy. During that time, Arkansas’ current tailback was able to pick up untold amounts of knowledge.

“I learned how to make a play when there was no play to be made,” Smith said. “Most of all, (I learned) to go out there and have fun.”

This year, Smith plans to continue the tradition of great Arkansas backs by changing up the style of the conventional running back and making plays in the open field as well as the backfield.

Smith came to Arkansas expecting to be a running back and was trained to be one as he worked with McFadden and Jones. Following the 2007 season, both McFadden and Jones chose to end their careers as Razorbacks and enter the NFL Draft, opening the door for Smith to be the featured back in the Arkansas system.

The 2008 season also brought in a new coaching staff and a new offensive style. Smith enjoys the new challenge and began to learn his duties quickly.

“I like being out in space with one-on-one matchups,” Smith said. “Getting out on the edge and running into people when I have to; it keeps the defense off balance. They’re not necessarily expecting it. It’s very creative.” This year, Smith is having fun with his Razorback team. He is considered a leader in the locker room and on the field, being one of few returning Razorbacks on offense. Arkansas has fielded 15 freshmen already this year, and the lack of experience has made Smith’s role as a mentor even more critical to the success of the Razorbacks this season, especially after a tough loss to Alabama.

“Sometimes you get knocked down,” Smith said. “I’ve been knocked down a few times since I’ve been here, and you’ve got to get back up. Nobody said it was going to be easy. This is what we came for, we’ve just got to get out there and play, we’re going to be in a dog fight this entire year.”

Smith may only be 5-7, but his role on the offense and leadership on the team go way beyond his frame. He played behind two NFL rookie of the year candidates for two years and gained knowledge that most running back don’t get. He was on a Razorback team that won an SEC West title, and has been a part of major upsets. He has a very knowledgeable perspective of the college game and the SEC, which could prove crucial in the remaining games for the Razorbacks.



Sports Category : Football