Smith Hopes To Take Advantage

FAYETTEVILLE -- For one night in late September, Michael Smith was known as something other than Arkansas' speedy backup running back.

He was just another inmate in the Washington County Jail. By not thinking things through, he had put himself in a situation where he found himself behind bars.

"It was an eye-opening experience, it definitely was," Smith said Tuesday night, speaking with a sense of clarity gained in the two months since his arrest.

The sophomore knows something about second chances, especially after how his life on and off the football field has gone this year.

Arkansas coach Houston Nutt allowed Smith to rejoin the team after serving a one-game suspension for allegedly charging nearly $100 on a stolen credit card.

The coaching staff again has trust in Smith's ability as a playmaker despite his fumble that changed the momentum in a 42-29 loss to Kentucky on Sept. 22.

And if Arkansas running back Felix Jones is unable to play Saturday because of a deep thigh bruise, Smith will get the chance to help carry the Razorbacks in their critical showdown with Mississippi State in War Memorial Stadium.

"(The) antennas are up and he knows that he can't make another mistake. He wants to be right," Nutt said. "He's been raised the right way, so he's doing everything the right way right now."

For most of his three seasons at Arkansas, Smith has been known as the 5-foot-7 speedster who has come in when star running backs Darren McFadden and Felix Jones need a breather.

But Smith has gotten himself noticed at times this season, sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong ones.

His 81-yard touchdown in the final minute of a 58-10 win over Florida International on Oct. 27 remains the longest run by an Arkansas tailback this season.

Smith also scored the Razorbacks' only touchdown in last Saturday's 34-13 loss at No. 19 Tennessee.

But then there was his disastrous weekend in September. During the course of two days, he had a fumble that was returned for a touchdown and was arrested the following afternoon on two felony counts.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster, I'll tell you that," Smith said. "It's just up and down, and every time it seemed like I was on the right track, then I'd have a setback.

"To describe it best, it'd be one step forward, two steps back."

Smith's statistics through seven games this season closely mirror his production in 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2006.

He has two more carries (37) and 40 more yards (287) than a year ago, and he has scored the same number of rushing touchdowns (3).

And with Jones unable to practice Tuesday because of a right thigh bruise, it's looking more likely that Smith will be asked to pick up some of the slack against Mississippi State.

"Michael Smith is an exciting player," Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton said. "We think he has got a really good future here at Arkansas."

However, there was a time earlier this season when Smith wasn't so sure if he had a future at all with the Razorbacks.

On Sept. 23, less than 24 hours after the Kentucky loss, Smith was arrested for allegedly using a stolen credit card to make three charges totaling $96.34 at a local gas station and a convenience store.

According to a Fayetteville police report, Smith was remorseful and told an officer that he had no knowledge that the credit card was stolen. The card was given to him by an individual who owed him money.

Smith was charged with forgery in the second degree and theft by receiving, both felonies. His arrest surprised Nutt because the tailback had not been a troublemaker.

"Except for on the field, I don't think there is any split-second decisions. You have time to think about everything you're doing before you do it," Smith said. "And I've kind of learned that and I live by that now."

Smith had plenty of time to reflect. He spent 27 hours in police custody, including one night in jail, before being released after posting a $2,500 bond.

"That opened his eyes," Arkansas student life coordinator Rodger Hunter said. "The most important thing that happened is him being locked up."

Smith's arraignment is scheduled for Nov. 30, but Hunter said the Washington County Prosecutor's Office is considering dropping the charges against Smith because the individual who gave him the credit card was arrested.

After the incident, Smith and his father met with Arkansas Chancellor John White to assure him that the sophomore is a good person.

Smith spoke to a group of fifth- and sixth-grade students about the importance of making smart decisions. Hunter also made him serve as a mentor to two freshman players.

"You definitely cherish every snap after that because you never know, especially when you make decisions without thinking," Smith said. "You never know when that may be your last decision to make."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories