Smith Tries To Follow Dad's Footsteps

FAYETTEVILLE — Michael Smith doesn't know much about his father's college football career because Michael Smith Sr. "doesn't like to talk about it." But the Arkansas running back has had plenty of help putting together the pieces.

He realizes his dad was well-known at Florida A&M in the 1980s. He is aware that Smith Sr. was an explosive player. And he knows that his father was particularly talented in the return game, so dangerous when he dropped back to field a punt or kickoff that he earned the nickname, "Mr. Excitement."

"When other people talk about it, they say you kind of held your breath every time he was back there," Smith said Wednesday. "You never knew if he was about to do something exciting."

Smith has earned his own reputation for being an exciting playmaker after carrying Arkansas' ground game as a junior. But if he has his way, Smith will follow in his father's footsteps, too, by working has the Razorbacks punt returner in 2009.

Smith has been pulling double duty this preseason, working at the spot along with receiver Joe Adams and cornerback Jerell Norton. He still carries a load of responsibility in the rushing attack, but Smith believes he can make an impact elsewhere.

"I would really like that job," Smith said. "Especially with the number of backs we have, I won't be as tired in the backfield. I would like to be able to help out in another phase of the game."

If he's wins the job, Smith is hoping to provide Arkansas with a threat at spot that hasn't produced much lately. Last season, Smith, Norton and Jarius Wright shared the job and combined to average an SEC-low 5.3 yards a return. Smith averaged a team-high 8.8 yards on four punt returns. That also included a 16-yard return, the team's best for the season.

But there's a new emphasis on special teams under coordinator John L. Smith and the Razorbacks want results in the return game. Smith could help. And, at the same time, help himself.

"One of the things John L. Smith has really pounded into Michael is that at the next level, the more things you can do, the more marketable you're going to be," said running backs coach Tim Horton, who also works with Arkansas' punt returners.

"I think Michael sees that, ‘Hey, if I can go out there and be a good punt returner then I've got a chance to maybe do it at the next level and maybe make some money doing it.'"

John L. Smith agreed that returning punts would be good for Smith's resume, but added that the Razorbacks are considering the back for other reasons. He said both Smith and Adams have "some make-you-miss" in them that could benefit the Hogs.

"You take a look because he's going to make us better," John L. Smith said. "It's going to be better for us."

The running back still has plenty to learn. He has dropped a few punts in practice. Another time, Smith didn't read the ball correctly, it hit the ground and bounced 20 yards downfield.

Smith said finding the ball isn't the hardest part, though. It's determining whether to return it or signal for a fair catch.

The good news is that Smith can turn to his father for advice.

"I'm not as well versed in them as he was, but I'm learning," Smith said. "Hopefully by the end of fall camp I'll be smooth, comfortable and relaxed back there. And ready to go."

And who knows? Maybe Arkansas will remember Smith as its own "Mr. Excitement" whenever he returns a punt in 2009.

"That wouldn't be a bad thing," Smith said with a smile.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories