Smith, A Workhorse On, Off The Field

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas running back Michael Smith's alarm clock goes off at 5:15 a.m. and, whether he feels like it or not, the junior peels himself out of bed.

It's time to start another day. So Smith fumbles for a T-shirt, puts on shorts, eats something for breakfast, then heads out the door to Arkansas' training room.

It would be easier — and much more relaxing — to just lay in bed and catch a little more sleep before heading off to morning classes. But Smith, who leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing (119.8 yards a game) and is coming off a 35-carry performance at Auburn, knows better.

"If I didn't do it, I wouldn't make it," Smith said.

Arkansas fans have grown accustomed to watching the pint-sized back run fearlessly through the line of scrimmage, absorb blows by hard-hitting linebackers and continue to carry the load for the Hogs' ground game this season. What they might not know is the proactive work Smith puts in behind the scenes to help safeguard himself from injury and fatigue in the Southeastern Conference.

Arkansas believes a big chunk of Smith's success can be attributed to his commitment to injury prevention and recovery routines set up by new trainer Joe Sheehan.

Smith is in the training room two to three hours a day trying to ensure that his body is prepared for and recovers from the pounding he takes each Saturday.

"It's a full-time job," Smith said. "But it pays off. I know what it feels like to be beat down to the point where you can't move and it's not a good feeling. I like the feeling of being able to go and run around and not be walking around campus like, ‘Oh, man, I hate myself right now.'"

It's not easy for running backs to withstand the rigors of a 12-game season. It's even harder for a 5-foot-7, 173-pound running back, who is averaging 26.4 touches and 166.4 all-purpose yards a game. That's why Smith said putting in the effort every morning is "not a burden."

A typical morning routine includes:

• Contrast therapy in which Smith sits in a hot tub for two minutes, moves to a cold tub for two more, and repeats the process three more times to "wake" his body.

• Elevation exercises where he puts his legs up against a wall, rolls his ankles and wiggles his toes to help bloodflow.

• Exercise bike work for a certain period of time on some days. On others, he uses a vibration training machine. Both pieces of equipment are designed to help circulation.

• A self massage with a foam roller, which works out knots in the quads and calves. He also goes through a full flexibility program and gets a massage from trainers.

• Core stability work twice week, which strengthens his abdominal muscles, glutes, hamstrings and groin muscles.

Sheehan said the routine must change frequently to remain effective and it's just a sample of the work Smith puts in every week. It's not easy, Smith is serious about it.

"Darren (McFadden) and Felix (Jones) really took care of themselves," running backs coach Tim Horton said. "But Michael has probably gone above and beyond what they did. I mean, he's there every day. He takes care of himself when he's really not hurt, too. ... He's got to continue to do that because we're going to ride that horse."

Sheehan said the origins of the program Smith is using — which he hopes to bring to every Arkansas sport — dates back to his days with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The training staff was trying to find ways to help running back Fred Taylor avoid some of the nagging leg injuries and developed a plan to keep him fresh on a daily basis.

It's something the 32-year-old Taylor still does "religiously" in his 11th season in the NFL.

Sheehan said other Arkansas players are paying attention because of what it has done for Smith.

"We've got a bunch of guys that have bought into the system, but he's at the forefront because of the way he's producing on the field," Sheehan said. "It requires you to invest your time and your energy and all the credit in the world goes to Michael Smith. He is committed."

Of course, there's no guarantee it will help Smith keep up his current pace. It has been a challenging stretch.

Smith needed intravenous fluids at halftime after at least two games this season. He was cramping on his 63-yard touchdown run last Saturday. Smith does a good job of avoiding big shots, but admitted Monday that he still felt like he had been "hit by a truck" at Auburn.

That's why Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said the Razorbacks still must do a better job of protecting him fresh on gameday. Petrino was concerned that Smith had 21 carries in the first half alone against the Tigers.

"I've got to force the issue and try to keep him a little fresher for the second half," Petrino said. "I think it would be good if we can get him to halftime with 12, 13 carries and get (freshmen) De'Anthony (Curtis) and (Dennis Johnson) going. That would help us a lot."

But Arkansas will still count on Smith and the running back said he's not worried about his health.

Smith said his performance — which has been aided by the work he has been doing off the field — has given him confidence he can continue to carry the load.

"I think that when your mind knows why you're doing something, it feels better about doing it," Smith said. "So the stress level of having to get up and having to come back and forth to the training room throughout the week, it's not there. You just understand that this is something I have to do. ... It's vital to my success."

All-Purpose Smith

Arkansas running back Michael Smith has carried the load for the Razorbacks the past five games. Here's a look at the touches (carries, catches and returns) and all-purpose yards he has compiled this season:

Opponent Touches YDS TD

La.-Monroe 26 180 2

Alabama 25 158 1

Texas 15 80 0

Florida 28 182 1

Auburn 38 232 1

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