A-back Orwin Smith spoke with Paul Newberry of the Associated Press and me for several minutes Tuesday after practice in an enlightening interview on a few different topics, including how he was able to grow up in Alabama and not develop an affinity for college football. Smith, you’ll recall, became the first Georgia Tech player to have 100 rushing and receiving yards in the same game and averaged 37.9 yards on seven offensive touches with touchdowns of 95 (rushing) and 67 (receiving) yards. Onward…
1. Smith began playing organized football around the age of seven in Phenix City, Ala., which is right across the river from Columbus, but was more into playing a number of sports than watching them.
“I grew up not even watching college football,” he said. “My family itself wasn’t really big on football. We had a lot of women.”
He only started paying notice to Auburn, just down the road from Phenix City, as a sophomore.
Said Smith, “They were my first (scholarship) offer, so I was kind of forced to check ‘em out.”
2. At that point, Smith wasn’t even aware that Tech existed. I didn’t ask if the previous coaching staff recruited Smith. But I actually spoke with him when he was a senior in high school, Paul Johnson’s first year at Tech, for a story about the offense getting negatively recruited and the importance of being on television so players could see for themselves.
“I want to see how the offense flows,” Smith said then. “I want to see how many times different backs touch the ball.”
3. Anyway, Smith said he chose Tech for a few reasons, one presumably being that he was satisfied by how many times different backs touched the ball. One is that football won’t last forever and that if “you’ve got Georgia Tech on your degree, I feel like you can’t really go wrong with it.”
Another reason was the opportunity to live in Atlanta, since the only times he’d been up to metro Atlanta “was because of Six Flags like on a school trip.”
He gives Atlanta his approval. He said “it’s probably Columbus times two.”
My wife’s family, which almost all lives in Columbus (or, if you will, Atlanta divided by two), would presumably appreciate Smith’s valuation. I do enjoy visiting there – besides the homes of my wife’s parents and grandmother, Deorio’s ’s is my favorite place to eat there – but either Smith thinks a lot of Columbus or isn’t that impressed with Atlanta.
4. If you read the link, the other two prospects mentioned in the story, Courtney Dalcourt and Jamal Patterson (who now goes by Jamal-Rashad Patterson) are at Western Kentucky and Stanford, respectively. Patterson is from Henry County High, the same as receiver Chris Jackson. Patterson, you might remember, was a huge recruit who hasn’t been able to make the field much yet. This is even further off track, but was kind of funny. Patterson’s Stanford bio says his high school coach was Mike Rozier (true), “the former Heisman Trophy winner” (not true).
5. In Smith’s opinion, the main difference in the offense compared to 2010 is the blocking, since a lot of the players are the same. “We could have had the same success even last year, but it was just one or two mistakes that were hurting us,” he said. “It was costing us some serious games. This year, everyone’s clicking and playing with confidence.”
6. Smith got the ball 10 times, including kickoffs, against Kansas, and that tied for the second-most number of touches in his Tech career. (From a volume standpoint, I suppose it didn’t help that Tech had four touchdowns of 50 yards or longer, including two by him.)
Like just about every other back in the offense, he was the featured player in high school, getting as many as 30 touches per game. But he gave a couple reasons why he’s O.K. with sharing the ball. He likes seeing teammates have success, “especially when you can be the reason why somebody broke out for 60 yards.”
For example, Smith threw a block that helped spring A-back Embry Peeples‘ 63-yard run Saturday. In high school, featured backs can cause jealousy among teammates, but playing in an offense where the blocking of everyone, even a home-run hitter like Smith, is necessary to break plays, prevents that.
“Just getting a piece of the love, that’s what we say,” he said.
The other reason, which makes some sense, is that it prevents wear on the backs (except maybe the B-backs) because not only are players getting tackled less, but sometimes they’re not even touched on the play.
“You have other backs, by game seven, they’re wore out,” he said. “But a team like us, with so many athletes, we’ll be fresh all season.”
7. Smith is hopeful the versatility of his position combined with his skill set and physical ability will give him a shot at the NFL. He mentioned something I’ve heard Johnson say repeatedly, that if you can play, the NFL will find you. Smith said it put a smile on his face when he heard Johnson say that the other day.
Smith will be something of a test case for the NFL prospects for A-backs in the offense. As a member of the 2009 recruiting class, he was the first player recruited by Johnson to play A-back and obviously has speed and playmaking ability. It’ll be interesting to see how much of a chance he gets and also where teams see him as a fit.
8. Johnson mentioned earlier Tuesday that Smith has the sort of frame and ability that he is looking for in A-backs. Smith is 6-foot and 202 pounds, played tailback in high school, can run and catch, makes plays in space and is a willing blocker. I asked if he’d seen A-backs come after him who kind of remind him of himself.
On the team, he said, there’s only Deon Hill (6-0, 205), who followed Smith to Tech from Phenix City Central High. “All the other A-backs are kind of petite and fast,” he said, and if Smith had said that in a comic strip, I’m guessing Tony Zenon would have appeared above his head in a thought bubble.
But, he said, he is seeing more similarity with players that coaches are recruiting. One possibility is Marcus Allen of Hilliard, Fla., who committed to Tech in August over Florida Sate, Tennessee, Nebraska and others. Despite what Stanford might have you believe, Allen is not the former Heisman Trophy winner from Southern California, nor any relation, but is related to former Georgia greats Champ, Boss and Ron Bailey. Allen is 6-2, 210 pounds and would seem a candidate to play either A-back or B-back.
“I can tell Coach Johnson wants more power because nowadays you can find 6-2 running backs who can do the same thing as a 5-10 running back,” he said. “I can kind of see the transformation.”
Obviously, Smith’s success would help with that.
Thanks for reading. I’ll have something up after practice this evening.
By Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech beat