The former fourth team tailback rushed for 126 yards in Auburn's 17-7 victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa and won the admiration of Auburn fans worldwide. How he fits into his team's offensive plans in his second college season should be one of the most interesting things to watch about the 2003 Tigers as he begins the campaign as the No. 3 tailback behind a pair of talented juniors.
Smith is looking for bigger and better things out of the Tigers and so are many publications around the country. Photos of Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown have graced the covers of Sports Illustrated, Athlon's, etc., but except for the cover of Inside the Auburn Tigers' Football Guide none included Smith until the New York Times put all four backs (including Brandon Jacobs) on the cover of its annual College Football Preview. For someone that could hold a grudge, Smith sounded pretty comfortable with the idea of being just one of the gang.
"It's always nice to shoot us as a group," Smith says of the running backs. "We look at ourselves as a group anyway, we don't look at individual stuff. Someone might get it started on game day, but we look at that as something like if he (Carnell Williams or Ronnie Brown) gets an award it's all of us. We all push each other to work harder so which ever one of us has a real good game we just look at it like all of us did that."
Tre Smith shows off his receiving skills in practice.
As a group the four gives the Tigers the deepest quality tailback rotation in college football, but Smith says there is more to them than just running the ball. In addition to being friends and competitors, all four can play a number of different spots on the field to give opponents a lot to think about when formulating a game plan.
"They can put three of us on the field at the same time doing different stuff," Smith notes. "We can all do so many different things. That just means they can put more of us on the field and get us the ball different ways. I guess it's more of a threat."
With all of the talk centering around how good people are projecting the Tigers to be this season, there has also been some talk using the term ‘overrated.' In addition to several websites that rank Auburn as the country's most overrated team, ESPN analyst Trev Alberts had harsh things to say about the team during Saturday's Kansas State-California game. Smith says his team can handle negativity.
"I haven't heard them say it yet, but when you hear it, it bothers you," Smith says. "It just makes you want to work harder and really makes you want to win. You kind of like it when people doubt you because it pushes you to do so much better. We want to win now so we can show them.
"I didn't hear it actually. People have told me about it. It just makes you want to win so much more to prove people wrong. We had a team meeting today and Coach (Tommy Tuberville) told us about it. He reminded us about that a little bit. He told us we needed to work extra hard because we don't want them to be right."
Something the team has focused on this fall to give it a better chance of winning games is special teams. Finishing near the bottom of the SEC in just about every special teams category last season with the exception of punting, Smith says the team has focused on getting better in all phases of the return game. That begins with putting the shifty sophomore in a position to make some plays with the ball in his hands on both the punt and kickoff return teams.
"I'm looking real forward to special teams," Smith says. "That's one of our main emphasis this year. Last year we didn't excel at special teams at all--it wasn't real good. This year we're spending so much more time on it this year. We're focusing on it a lot more. We're trying to get it perfect.
"Last year we were just putting in a new offense and new defense. We were learning all these new plays and special teams was off to the side a little bit. This year we're really focusing on it. I'm really excited about it because we've got a lot of good schemes. Returning kicks is probably the most fun part of the game for me. I've always returned kicks since I was little. It always seems real fun to me. I've done it my whole life."
One of the biggest questions coming into 2003 is how will Auburn handle the high expectations? Hearing talk from friends, family and classmates, Smith says the team is focusing on taking care of business because the Tigers haven't accomplished anything yet.
"There's more talk about winning a national championship," Smith says. "Last year we didn't hear that much, but we're getting more media coverage. There's lots of media stuff going around like people talking about us on ESPN. As far as a team we're pretty much acting the same. Our days are pretty much the same, nothing really changes that much. We still go to meetings and practices.
"We're focusing a lot more on perfection this year," he adds. "It's a little bit different, but I guess they're working us harder this year. I guess the coaches see our potential, how good we can be. Everything they do they try to make us the best we can be. They see that we have a chance to be real good so they push us to try to be perfect."