|Central Florida RB Kevin Smith quietly turning in record rushing year|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 28 November 2007 12:56|
Such is life at Central Florida for Kevin Smith, who has quietly put together one of the best seasons for a running back in college football history.
He has run for 2,164 yards this season, fourth-best in NCAA history, and still has two games to play. The junior has 26 touchdowns, a 300-yard game and five more with at least 200 yards. At the rate he's going, only Barry Sanders' 2,628 yards in 1989 will stand ahead of Smith's total this season.
Smith gets to add to those totals Saturday in the Conference USA championship against Tulsa.
Playing in C-USA, at one of those 'other' Florida schools, the hype that usually goes to players with Smith's abilities and statistics has eluded him. He's got no shot at the Heisman Trophy and didn't even make the final cut for the Doak Walker Award, despite putting up better numbers than the finalists: Michigan's Mike Hart, Arkansas' Darren McFadden and Rutgers' Ray Rice. Earlier this week, only two reporters were waiting to interview Smith after practice.
``All you can do is what he does on the field,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said.
Smith has done little to draw attention to himself. Spare with self-promotion, he gets good grades, keeps his head down and gushes about the offensive line. The junior believably insists he's not sure he'll skip his senior season for the NFL draft, and won't without O'Leary's blessing.
``It's the week of the (Conference USA) championship,'' Smith said. ``Worrying about whether I'm going to be here next year is the last thing that should be on my mind.''
The thing about Smith, O'Leary and teammates say, is he actually means that stuff.
``Some guys give it lip service, but he truly means that, and he's never talked about any individual honors,'' O'Leary said. ``All he talks about is he's never won. He's never ever won a team championship.''
Whatever he's doing, it's working. Smith already has had the best season ever by a college running back in Florida, and is only the second back in the state to top 4,000 career yards.
O'Leary considers himself lucky to have Smith.
The coach happened to catch the 6-foot-1, 211-pounder as a junior at Miami's Southridge High School, when Smith was still playing tailback.
He switched to safety senior year, against his wishes, and was recruited mostly for defense.
``I talked to a lot of coaches, but I guess when I finally told them I really wanted to play running back they kind of fell off,'' Smith said.
O'Leary, trying to rehabilitate an 0-11 team from his first season, knew immediately where to put Smith.
``He had great vision. He cut in the hole, he did things you don't teach, and he had some range to him,'' O'Leary said. ``We were fortunate he was moved to free safety. I'm sure he was under the radar because of that.''
Smith made an immediate impact. He ran for 1,178 yards in 2005, second best in the country as a freshman, and helped UCF to one of college football's greatest year-to-year turnarounds. The Knights made their first postseason appearances and Smith set a Hawaii Bowl record with 202 yards rushing, including a record 79-yard TD run.
Still, Smith was not widely regarded as a marquee talent, and was slowed in 2006 by a shoulder injury.
This season, he's been all but unstoppable. Smith ranks first in the country in scoring and virtually all rushing categories. He has 11 100-yard games, including 149 yards and two TDs in September against Texas - so it's not like he can't get it done against the big guys.
``His freshman year he couldn't wait to get the ball, to get to the line and be a running back,'' O'Leary said. ``I think his sophomore year he started looking at the defensive line and reading things. This year ... besides the line, (he's) reading linebackers. He's gotten a lot more patient with the ball in his hands.''
Smith has also gotten stronger. He called himself the program's puniest player when he started three years ago. Smith now squats more than 600 pounds and estimates his 40-yard dash at 4.4, though he hasn't been timed since he registered that in high school.
``I give credit to the strength coaches,'' Smith said. ``My freshman year I was the weakest guy on the team by far. Couldn't bench press 225 even one time, now I'm up to 15.''
Smith has above-average speed and strength, but it's timing and vision that have made him a big-yardage threat. He averages 180 yards, and is the first player in 63 years to run for three TDs of at least 80 yards in he same season. Smith has also scored from 56, 44 and 41 yards.
``It's definitely a big motivation,'' offensive tackle Pat Brown said. ``I could be a backside blocker and know that holding on for that one extra second, Kevin might see something that nobody else sees and he's going to break through it and make the big play.''
Smith has rushed for more yards than all but two previous Heisman winners - Sanders and Marcus Allen, who is second all-time with 2,342 in 1981. In third-place is Iowa State's Troy Davis, who ran for 2,185 in 1996.
Smith should easily Davis on Saturday and then catch Allen in a bowl game. He would have to average 232 yards the next two games to pass Sanders, who put up his numbers in 11 games.
``I guess anything's possible,'' Smith said, laughing in disbelief.
He's quietly made it seem that way all year.