Determined to ride its rushing game to victory, Alabama ran early and often against the Golden Eagles. And with Le'Ron McClain still sidelined with a jammed big toe, Smith was needed as a lead blocker. "We made a commitment to run the ball, and my role was being the fullback," Smith explained. "I was in the game a lot and really got to do some good work. I had a great time."
A diligent worker on Bama's scout team for four years, prior to Saturday Smith's game-day contributions had been limited to the kickoff return unit. So he relished the chance to get some ‘PT' on offense. "That playing time was more than I've had all year," Smith said. "When (Running Backs Coach Sparky Woods) put me into the game, he didn't say anything different. He just said ‘Play like you practice.' It was good to get in the game."
"Didn't he do a nice job?" Woods asked rhetorically with a big smile on his face. "I'm real happy for Josh. He's really stuck to it. He's been here a long time, working on the scout team all his career. Now he's a great contributor to this year's team. He also works on the kickoff return team. Saturday he jumped in there and played close to 20 snaps on offense."
Officially Smith was credited with 18 snaps, almost a third of Bama's offensive plays. As Coach Woods explained, Saturday was a "lead block game," a role which Smith is ideally suited for. "We ran a lot of ‘regular personnel' with a fullback in the game Saturday," Smith said. "The other games we'd run a lot of four-wides and other formations."
Last season Smith did play extensively in Bama's junior varsity game. Versus Georgia Military Academy, Smith carried the ball seven times for 57 yards. Smith said, "It's fun every time you get into the ball game, especially at fullback. You just have one job. Run and hit somebody. It's not complicated. It was a lot of fun to go out there and play."
As the Tide's starting tailback, Shaud Williams was the grateful beneficiary of many of those lead blocks. "Josh is one of those guys that loves contact," Williams said. "If you want somebody to go in there and stick his nose right in the middle of somebody, Josh is your man. He'll go in there--it doesn't matter how big the defender is--he'll put his helmet right in the middle."
Tide Head Coach Mike Shula laid the situation out for his offensive line and running backs last week during practice. "We said going in that we wanted 25 rushing plays that gained four or more yards," Smith said. "Coach Shula really challenged us all week. He challenged the offensive line. He challenged us as running backs. We came through on Saturday. I can't remember how many we had over four yards, but it was a lot. We got the job done."
Against a determined Golden Eagle defense that regularly loaded up with eight to ten men in the box, Alabama responded with 243 yards on 50 attempts, an average of almost five yards per carry.
"It's always nice to have somebody to block for you that would rather have contact," Williams said. "Josh doesn't care about carrying the ball. He just wants to go in there and hit somebody. You love having somebody like that."
"We give a ‘Big Hit' award every week, and Josh won," Woods related. "He made a great hit there at the end on offense. He was the lead blocker and flattened one of their better defenders. It was an excellent block. Usually a defensive player wins that award, so we were real happy for him about that."
Listed generously in the program at 5-10 and 221 pounds, Smith has built himself into a powerful athlete through long hours of work in the weight room. Williams commented, "They say he's too small, but Josh packs a punch. He's got the record for running backs on the bench press, something like 470 (actually 465) pounds. He's just strong."
Playing bigger than their size is something that Smith and Williams have in common. "He's kind of like Shaud in that he's not that big, so he's got to really hit the defender," Woods said. "But Josh is fast. He gets on them quickly. He's got really good technique and is smart. He played physical Saturday. He's a tough, physical guy."
Playing for Coach Joey Jones at Mountain Brook High School, Smith gained more than 1,600 yards his senior season and scored 23 touchdowns. He was also a prep standout at wrestling and track and field.
Smith could have accepted a scholarship to play at a smaller school, but he chose to walk-on at Alabama to play football and earn his degree in Mechanical Engineering. "He's an Engineering major, and that's tough enough," Williams said. "But he's paying his own way. Not only do you admire him for sticking it out as a walk-on, but he's real smart, very intelligent. You know Engineering majors have plenty of work to do, but he finds time to come out here. For somebody that smart, he likes to stick his hat right in the middle of the defender's chest. They say that guys that like contact may not be the smartest, but that's not the case with Josh.
"You've got to admire somebody like that."
In Shula's offense the fullback rarely carries the football, if ever, and when McClain heals up offensive playing time will once again be tough to come by. But Smith doesn't let any of that bother him.
"You don't worry about that," Smith said. "So long as we're moving the football, there's no room for jealousy. It doesn't bother the fullbacks."
"Josh is all Alabama," Woods concluded. "He wants to do anything he can to help Alabama win. He's just thrilled to play when we win."
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