In practices he didn’t resemble a starting offensive lineman. In fact, if the Owls had other options last season, his college career might be about to close with little recognition.
A rash of injuries that decimated FAU’s line last season forced Smith’s rise back to a starting unit. Once there, Smith showed he belonged.
“People started believing in me,” Smith said.
Smith started eight games last season and entered spring of 2017 as a candidate for one of the starting guard spots.
By the time fall camp begin, Smith appeared to have once again lost that job. William Tuihalamaka, who started his college career at San Diego St., transferred to FAU during the summer and became the favorite for the right guard spot.
A couple weeks into fall camp, four of the five starting offensive line spots seemed settled. It wasn’t until the final days of camp that the Owls chose Smith over Tuihalamaka.
“He pushed himself this time,” FAU running back Buddy Howell said. “He actually pushed himself to the limit to where he’s getting in shape and he’s more comfortable with his role and his position.”
Smith looks like the kind of guy Howell and the rest of the running back unit would enjoy running behind.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, Smith isn’t the fastest of the Owls’ offensive lineman, but once he gets his hands on a defender Smith can impose his will.
“He does have a lot of power when he gets on guys,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin said. “It’s strange because he’s not really moving that fast, but he’s able to move them off their spot.”
Smith’s success this season is a testimony to the idea that not all college players mature at the same rate. Previous coaches believed Smith possessed the natural ability to be a starter, but his work in practices often held him back.
Smith’s growth is one of the reason’s Singletary, Howell and the rest of the running backs are enjoying so much success.
“A lot of bad habits got out of him,” center Antonyo Woods said. “He’s more active. It’s more of a leadership role from him. He’s more proactive mentally in the game. Physically he’s gotten his body to where he still can perform but yet still be powerful. It’s good to see him prosper throughout the weeks.”
Kiffin, however, isn’t letting the Owls rest on their accomplishments.
In the days that followed Saturday’s 52-24 Shula Bowl victory, Kiffin called out his offense for not finishing their blocks.
In the weeks leading up to the game, Kiffin noted Smith’s improvement, but wanted more consistency.
“He’s a very powerful player,” Kiffin said. “He does play up and down. He knows that doesn’t play to the standards at the time that we expect him to.”
Criticisms aside, Smith’s played a key role for a team that’s won seven consecutive games. He’s started all 11 games. His Owls are a little more than a week away from playing in the Conference USA championship game. He’ll end his career in a bowl game.
“I always knew my senior year was going to be my best year,” Smith said. “We’ve just got to keep putting in work, keep going. We can go far.”