Orwin Smith will leave Georgia Tech with at least one keepsake.
“I think we can actually buy the helmets, so I plan on taking that,” he said. “And even if I can’t buy it, I’m going to plan on taking it.”
Smith, Tech’s illustrious A-back, chuckled. The reality is, whatever he does with his helmet, he’ll leave the Yellow Jackets with far more than that. Smith, whose Tech career will conclude Dec. 31 against USC in the Sun Bowl, will take with him a reputation as one of the most explosive players in school history, one who approached the game with a professional mindset.
“When he came in here, he was a really quiet guy and I think as he’s played more, he’s blossomed into more of a personality guy,” coach Paul Johnson said. “But he’s had a really good career here. A lot of good games and a lot of big plays.”
The numbers are hard to dispute, starting with a 9.4 yards-per-carry career average, the highest in ACC history for any player with at least 1,000 yards. He became the first Tech player to accumulate more than 100 rushing and receiving yards in the same game, last year’s 66-24 annihilation of Kansas, when he also set a school record for longest run with a 95-yard rush on the Jackets’ first snap from scrimmage. He has produced 35 offensive plays of 20 yards or more (on 238 carries and receptions), a rate of one per 6.8 touches.
Starting his career as a true freshman in 2009, Smith has combined speed and power on the perimeter to fulfill the big-play potential for A-backs in Johnson’s spread-option offense.
“I can’t complain,” Smith said. “A lot of guys would have loved to have the opportunities and the numbers that I was able to get. I feel like I have to be grateful even if I feel like maybe it wasn’t quite as good as I wanted it to be.”
Injuries and the team’s 6-7 record have led Smith to call his senior season bittersweet. Smith leads the team with 673 rushing yards. If he can finish as the leader, he’ll be the first A-back to lead the team in rushing for any of Johnson’s teams at Tech, Navy or Georgia Southern. He’ll do so despite having missed the Georgia and Florida State games with an ankle injury (he is cleared for the Sun Bowl) and most of the Presbyterian game with a shoulder injury.
He shot down the sideline for a 77-yard touchdown run against Virginia and drilled Clemson for 149 yards of total offense on just eight touches. Cornerback Louis Young picked Smith as the team’s offensive player of the year.
“I know when we’re trying to get a first down and it looks like it’s not going to go anywhere, he makes something out of nothing,” Young said. “He’s been doing that ever since I got here.”
With six carries against USC, he’ll become Tech’s all-time leader in yards-per-carry average (200 carry minimum). With 107 yards, he’ll qualify for the ACC’s single-season yards-per-carry record and rank second all-time. Smith enters the game with a 9.0 yards-per-carry for the year.
Smith has approached his time at Tech with a purpose that has only sharpened with time. He took yoga classes over the summer to improve his flexibility and has not had a hamburger since May.
The first on his mother’s side of the family to attend college, Smith has also been academically motivated. He is two classes shy of a management degree. He has held two summer internships and is considering an MBA down the line. He’ll almost certainly get a shot at the NFL, either as a draft choice or an undrafted free agent.
He can be a difference-maker again for Tech, as the first Jackets A-back to make the NFL.
“I definitely think it’ll help with recruiting, and then also the guys that are here now,” he said. “I mean, you see someone make it, it’s like, I can do it, too.”
It’s not a helmet, but it wouldn’t be bad.
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Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog