October 23, 2008

Smith Stands Out in Rookie Sprint Season

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Just because opportunity knocks, that doesn’t mean you’re always going to hear it.
Sprint football senior running back Ryan Smith almost learned that the hard way.
“[Senior quarterback] Zak [Dentes] had asked me to join in the spring of my sophomore year, but I didn’t, which is actually a decision I regret now,” Smith said.
But he wasn’t to make the same mistake again.
“He asked me again last spring,” Smith said, “so I joined during the off-season.”
Several months later, Smith has now become an unexpected leader and ground-game workhorse for a Red backfield that has been decimated by injuries.
As a two-sport athlete at Musak High School in Monroe, Conn., football wasn’t even his focus.
“I played football for three years,” Smith said, “but I never really played much, to be honest. Really, I focused more on baseball in high school.”
Even though he had been out of football for a couple of years, Smith was able to pick-up the Red’s offense fairly quickly because of his experience in high school.
“I played as a running back in high school in a shotgun offense, so I was accustomed to the formation,” Smith said.
Once he became a member of the squad — a rookie tailback in his final year of college — it looked as if Smith’s new life in football might be all too similar to his high school days.
But Smith never complained and appreciated his role in whatever capacity it was.
“My role was really just to support the running backs, because you need more than one guy,” he said. “Earlier this season, I was just a backup mostly, helping guys get into shape and get ready for the season while playing on the scout team, and getting the defense prepared.”
But that all changed about two weeks ago when, on the heels of the announcement that Dentes would not be playing in the game against Princeton two weeks ago, the Red coaching staff was forced to sideline junior running back DJ Schiavetta for the same game due to injury. Earlier in the week, while giving several different players reps with the first team, Smith emerged as the starter for the conference matchup.
Smith had an opportunity to exhibit some of his potential earlier in the season when, in a Sept. 27 game against Mansfield, he rushed the ball seven times for 47 yards and scored his first touchdown on a five-yard run.
He would follow up that strong performance and take advantage of his first career start by compiling 49 yards on eight carries in another solid showing out of the backfield.
“I was excited,” Smith said. “I hadn’t thought about [the opportunity to start] at first. I just figured the team would need me as a backup.”
Last Friday against Penn, with Schiavetta still rehabbing, Smith got a second consecutive start and once again had a great game — anchoring the Red rushing attack with 48 yards on 19 carries. He also recorded his first two career touchdown receptions, grabbing both eight and three-yard passes from Dentes — the man who finally, on a second attempt, was able to convince his classmate to join the team.
“Outstanding,” said head coach Terry Cullen in assessment of Smith’s performance against Penn. “An outstanding job.”
“I think I played pretty well,” said Smith, always humble. “There’s stuff I can work on. No one’s perfect. It’s nice to have support from the rest of the team and the coaching staff. … I was excited for the opportunity. It’s been fun, I won’t lie. I’d rather be out there than on the sidelines.”
It seems, however, as though Smith’s start streak might end at two. Schiavetta was practicing again in full pads as of Tuesday night, according to the Red coaching staff, and he looked to be the featured back in the upcoming game against Army in West Point, NY.
“I can play if [Schiavetta] just needs a breather, but if he can play the whole game he should,” Smith said. “I’m ready to get in the game when they need me — whatever is best for the team, because we really need the win.”
For a player who almost missed his chance altogether, Smith is not only vying for playing time but happy to make the most of whatever opportunities he has.