Florida Backs Are Turning Heads

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas recruiting coordinator Chris Vaughn went to watch his old high school team playing in Florida on Friday night, but it wasn't one of those old home week things for him.

Instead he was on the job watching two of Tallahassee and the Sunshine State's top playmakers -- Rickards' all-purpose back Michael Smith (5-8, 175, 4.3) and Godby running back Roy Upchurch (6-0, 195).

Smith came up the winner as his 144 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns led Rickards (3-1) to a 33-14 win over Vaughn's old Godby team-- a win that came despite Upchurch busting out for 202 yard rushing.

"It was a great win, a statement game for us and I think pretty much set the tone for the rest of the season," Smith said. "It was a big, big confidence boost for us and answer some doubters about our ability, some of those who actually are on our football team.

"Now we all know what we can do."

Smith, who said Sunday that Arkansas leads Purdue and Northwestern for his signature, took an 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as well as a 20-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter that put his team up 27-7 and all but sealed the deal.

"I saw Coach Vaughn over there before the game," said Smith, who lines up at running back, wideout and defensive back and also returns kickoffs and punts. "I love that guy. He's a good man."

While he rushed for only 44 yards on 14 carries and caught a pass for 16 yards, Smith -- who had more than 1,400 yards rushing and 21 TDs his junior season for a 1-8 team -- managed to affect the game without the ball as well as with it.

"After the year I had last year, I can't go anywhere on a football field without a ton of people coming with me," Smith said. "So there's no way my numbers are going to be anywhere near what they were last year. But the problem for defenses is while they are paying so much attention to me, others are going in the other direction and scoring. We've also really turned up our passing game this season."

Smith, who says Arkansas has compared him to former Razorback standout Fred Talley, will take his official visit to Arkansas on Dec. 10-12 after taking in-season visits to Purdue and Northwestern.

"I want my Arkansas visit to be the last one," Smith said. "They are my leader without a doubt and then it's Purdue and Northwestern with neither of those teams in any order. I think I am going to go to a Purdue game and Northwestern on an off week."

Smith is healthy after tearing his ACL, PCL and MCL in the final game of the 2003 season.

"The knee's been great," Smith said. "No problems there. I think individually I have been mediocre, but I have high standards set for myself, so most people wouldn't agree with my assessment.

"It's all about the team anyway."

Upchurch had his 202 yards on 25 carries and also hauled in 3 passes for 49 yards, but his team's six turnovers canceled out all his good work.

Already with 1,054 yards and 12 touchdowns in five games, a 267-yard effort in one game and a six-touchdown performance in another, Upchurch has offers from front-running Miami, Florida State, LSU, North Carolina, Auburn and Arkansas.

Dudley Dawson is a staff writer for Hawgs Illustrated. His column appears every Tuesday. Email: Dedsports@aol.com.

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