Razorback Q&A: Richard Smith
By Nathan Striegler
Richard Smith may not stand out in a crowd. He may not be 6-4 or weigh 225 pounds, but the 5-10 180 pound junior has speed, and plenty of it. Smith came to Arkansas as the top ranked slotback in the nation and ever since his redshirt year in 1999, he has been a stable in the Razorback receiving corps.
While he had already hauled in over 70 receptions coming into this season, Smith was averaging only about 10 yards per catch and had not established himself as the deep threat the team needed. But things have changed this year. After two seasons of thriving off of screen passes and outs, Smith has emerged as Arkansas biggest threat to stretch the field through the air.
In routs over Boise State and South Florida Smith snared six receptions for 130 yards, an average of 21.7 yards per catch, and two touchdowns. Smith has always shown the ability to run precision routes and use his blazing speed to get open, but has struggled with some consistency making the big catch.
So far, Richard has caught everything thrown his way this year. Smith's spectacular leaping catch of a 33-yard Matt Jones pass early in the Boise State contest may have served as a prelude to what could be an amazing season for the flanker from Shreveport. Chasing Smith around the field has been a nightmare for opposing D-backs thus far in the young season. Thankfully, I was able to catch up with Richard for this week's Q & A.
Nathan Striegler: The last few years, it's really taken you, and the entire offense, a few games to get into the groove. How nice is it to get off to such a first start this year?
Richard Smith: It's something that we really focused on in the summertime and coming into camp. We wanted to make it so the defense didn't have to play as hard as they used to have to play. The offense needed to pick up the slack. I knew I could play a lot better and that was something I focused on all summer too.
NS: What is the biggest difference in you this year compared to past seasons?
RS: The main thing is me going out and playing focused. I'm trying to catch everything with my hands and not with my body. I try to catch everything out in front of me. I'm going out there with a little more determination. That's the biggest difference in me.
NS: You made an amazing catch in the first game where you pretty much fully extended in mid air for a 33-yarder from Matt. Tell me about that.
RS: It felt real good. I was surprised to see the ball coming to me because it's supposed to go to George Wilson on that certain play but I guess he (Jones) got pressured out of the pocket. He threw it up there, hung it up and it felt real good to start off with a good catch. It was fun.
NS: You came in following in the footsteps of some great receivers like Anthony Lucas and Boo Williams. Did you feel pressure to pick up where they left off?
RS: I know last year I did. It really was basically me and Sparky (Hamilton) that people knew about, and then George (Wilson) ended up having a better year than I did. I think I put too much pressure on myself. I went out and I didn't play the way that I wanted to play. I was trying to force things. Now I'm just letting things come to me.
NS: Last year George broke your record for receptions by a first year player. As he was approaching the record did you ever start kinda wishing that he would drop a pass?
RS: I didn't want him to break it, but I still didn't want him to have a bad year. We needed him to help us win. I knew he was getting close. Plus, it was his third year up here, so it wasn't like he was really a freshman. I'm just playin' man. I was real happy for him. It's kinda cool to break a record that's been here for three or four years and then have somebody close to you break it the very next year.
NS: You're always going to let him know about that big asterisk next to his record though aren't you?
NS: How big is it this year to have such balance in the passing distribution with guys like Decori Birmingham, Carlos Ousley, and Sparky Hamilton stepping in and contributing with you and George?
RS: It's a big difference. We went through it in the spring and the summer. We knew we were going to have to get more people involved. We couldn't let people just focus on me and George and then be able to bring people down on the running game. We needed to have some other people step up. Sparky Hamilton has always had the talent but he's always been hurt a little bit, with a nick here and a nick there. Now he's fully healthy and he's doing some stuff. Then you've got Decori, the young man coming in trying to help us out too. Then we've got these other guys doing a job coming in late in the game when we need some extra rest.
NS: As obsessed as everyone has become with huge receivers, do you think that people underestimate you because you aren't huge?
RS: Yeah, I do. My true freshman year, Sparky got to play and I didn't, so I took it upon myself to make sure that I never had to go through that again while I was up here. So, I just worked real hard that whole year I had off and I came back redshirt freshman year and ended up breaking the record. I think people underestimate me because I'm a little guy. I'm not big, but I'm a little bit faster than everyone else, and I've got a high vertical. So it kinda balances out.
NS: I've noticed that you've got some ridiculous hops. I was wondering if we could ever expect a dunk on the goal post?
RS: I would do it, but coach Nutt would be so mad if we got a penalty for it. I think he'd make me sit down for a little while in the game and I wouldn't want that to happen.
NS: You're going to finish your degree in May. How much does that mean to you?
RS: It's big. I will have finished my degree in four years and I'll have an extra year to go and do whatever I want. I can go to grad school up here while I'm still playing. It's big to get it out of the way so I can have something to come back to in case the NFL doesn't happen.
NS: How important is it for you, having the opportunity to use athletics as a means to pay for your education?
RS: I knew I probably wouldn't be in college if I wasn't on any type of athletic scholarship. That's why I've been trying to take advantage of it since I've been here because my mom and my grandma always taught me to work hard. Nobody was going to give me anything so I had to go out and get it.
NS: Were you and the receivers ever worried that with Matt at quarterback, that he would mostly run, and you guys wouldn't get the ball much?
RS: I was worried about it a little bit, not to the extent that we wouldn't get any passes. But, with a person like Matt Jones that can just take off-he runs a 4.4-and run by people. You kinda feel like if he's sitting in the pocket and even thinks that somebody is coming after him that he might take off. But he's been doing a good job of stepping up, throwing the passes and trying to stay in the pocket. He has run out some, but not as much as last year.
NS: Have you guys learned to keep working to get open until the whistle blows?
RS: Coach Shibest and coach Nutt have told us not to give up on any of our routes even if we're covered. With Matt Jones he can scramble to give us that extra two or three seconds to get open and then he can deliver the ball. We've learned not to give up on any play.
NS: Does Tarvaris Jackson really throw the ball that hard?
RS: Yup. He really does. It feels like he's throwing 90 mph. It might not be that fast but it sure feels like it.
NS: You still catch them all though right?
RS: Most of them.
NS: What's the biggest catch you've made in your career?
RS: I have a lot of big catches, I think (Chuckles). I know my freshman year in LSU it was fourth down and I caught the pass for fifteen yards in the rain and sleet and cold.
NS: Barefoot, uphill, both ways.
RS: Last year it would probably be South Carolina when I caught the touchdown pass that put us ahead.
NS: Have you and George developed a special comeraderie, especially after last year?
RS: We were always first when we first got here. It's bringing us closer. Sparky came in with us too and we're real close. We have a special comraderie on the field because we know what each other are thinking and we can give each other signals and signs and know what to do.
NS: How tough is it to start off the way you have and then have to wait an extra week to play again?
RS: It's tough because we wanna keep it rolling. I know the offense wants to keep our confidence up and go in against an SEC opponent and see what we can really do. We wanna see if we can keep the offense moving, taking time off of the clock, and put some points on the board. But it's something that we have to go through and I think it's going to be good to get our legs back and have time to get ready for our first opponent in the SEC.