A Whole New Ballgame
By Shannon McNamara for MSNsportsNET.com
August 23, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The list would take your breath away.
A Parade high school All-American. Florida Class 6A first team all-state. Sun-Sentinel Florida Class 6A Player of the Year. Number three rating among the Miami Herald’s top Florida prospects.
While these are only a fraction of freshman Eugene Smith’s accolades, the picture is clear – this rookie quarterback looks like he is the real deal.
“Those awards don’t mean anything here. I’m on a bigger stage at WVU,” the Miramar, Fla., native said without hesitation. “If anything, the way I carried myself in high school – the way I handled the pressure and recognition – helps me now. With success comes praise, so you really have to be humble.
“I think I’m ready to handle whatever comes my way.”
So far that looks to be the case. In two preseason scrimmages to date, Smith has completed 15 of 26 passes for 169 yards. Yesterday, Coach Bill Stewart said Smith will start the season as the team’s No. 2 quarterback.
Smith’s modesty is further reflected in the goals he has outlined for his rookie season.
“I just need to get better in every aspect of the game,” he began. “Second of all, I just want to be the best teammate I can be.”
With a high school resume that boasts senior year stats such as 32 touchdowns and 3,089 passing yards on 205 completions, Smith’s modesty holds true to a point, for the 6-foot-3, 190-pound, four-star recruit out of Miramar High also knows that he has the will, skill and determination to achieve much loftier goals by the conclusion of his Mountaineer career.
“National Championship. Heisman Trophy. BIG EAST Conference Championship,” Smith hastily stated, then laughed. “I can’t name all of my career goals. I just want to win.”
Smith’s personality is refreshing for such a young player, especially one that enters the collegiate ranks with the expectations of thousands on his shoulders. Yet, even that fact is not lost on the newcomer. Sidelined with a broken foot throughout much of the summer, and adorned with a green injury jersey at the opening of fall camp, Smith says that the recovery process helped him mature and painted a picture of the new responsibilities he now holds as a college student-athlete.
“That injury made me smarter regarding the decisions I make,” he said. “I’m not making decisions just for myself anymore, but also for my team and the program.
“It really made me see the bigger picture. It humbled me a lot. Now, when I’m out there playing football, I really appreciate just being on the field.”
WVU offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Jeff Mullen says Smith’s progress thus far has not been hindered by any lingering ailments. If anything, Mullen says Smith is right where the coaching staff thought he would be at this point.
“Geno has a physical skill-set that I really like,” Mullen said. “He does a real nice job of protecting the football, not seeing the rush, keeping his eyes down field and seeing a number of receivers throughout the progression. He also delivers the ball nicely. He has to work on the mental aspect, but that would be true for any freshman.”
“It will probably take me a game to get that college feel,” Smith said, reiterating Mullen’s point. “Pretty much, when game-time starts and I get a chance to watch, I’ll get a feel for how everything goes.”
Preparing Smith for the initial shock of college ball are senior starting quarterback Jarrett Brown and redshirt-freshman Coley White.
Smith finds similarities with Brown’s style of play – both pro-style quarterbacks; the rookie relies on the Mountaineer leader’s experience and advice as he further acclimates himself.
“He’s been a great guy,” Smith said of Brown. “He will pull me aside and tell me things throughout practice – he lets me know if I miss a read or something.”
And while many might assume that Smith and White would have a frigid relationship, based on the fact that they are both fighting for the No. 2 quarterback slot, Smith was quick to answer who has emerged as his big brother on the team.
“Coley White is helping me out a lot. It’s nice having him here; he’s really showing me the ropes right now,” he explained. “We’re a close-knit group, so we all help each other out.”
While Smith is excited about his progress, and the chances that may come his way this season, he is equally excited about his classmates’ potential to contribute both this year and in the future.
“This 2009 class is really good. Tavon (Austin) is one of the quickest guys I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Stedman Bailey always gets open. Pat Miller is a really good freshman corner. He breaks on the ball fast; so does Broderick Jenkins. The entire class has already proven a lot.”
The class, by Smith’s estimates, is stacked, but even he admits that they have not experienced anything until they play their first game at Milan Puskar Stadium at Mountaineer Field.
“Those fans!” Smith exclaimed. “I’m looking forward to seeing the stadium packed with all of the fans. I’m sure I’m going to get chill-bumps when I hear them as I come out of the tunnel.”
Smith knows that this upcoming season is going to be filled with new experiences – situations and events that would leave any rookie, even one as decorated as himself, awed. He hopes for the good days, and is prepared for the bad ones.
“Bad days happen, especially when you’re a quarterback,” he said in a reassuring manner. “It’s something that you can’t really control. The most important thing is to be consistent – you have to be consistent at all times.”
College ball may be a new game for Smith, but the hunger and humility he has exuded throughout fall camp prove that his transition to the Mountaineer program will not only be smooth, but also successful.
United Bank Playbook
Kate Schwindel: OSU/Oklahoma Pregame
Tony Gibson: OSU Pregame
Bob Huggins: Preseason Media Conference
Dana Holgorsen Media Conference: OSU
Inside the 18: Episode 9