Auburn, Ala.--When Auburn began preseason practice just two weeks ago Courtney Taylor was the receiver that everyone was talking about for the Tigers. Now just two weeks from the first game the name everyone has on their lips is Rodgeriqus Smith.
A walk-on that saw extensive action last season as a redshirt freshman, Smith's play was so impressive in Friday's scrimmage that he not only moved up the depth chart but also moved positions to get him on the field sooner. Behind Taylor and Montez Billings as Auburn's Z position to begin the fall, Smith was moved to the X and named the first-teamer on Saturday ahead of Prechae Rodriguez and Tim Hawthorne. He says it's a move he's happy with because he feels like it's well deserved.
"I feel like I should be a starter," Smith says. "From the first day I got here I worked hard. I feel like if I keep working hard things are going to pay off. Right now I think it's my time. I just want to keep moving forward and continue on the first team. I feel like I deserve it.
"Coach (Greg) Knox told me there were going to be some changes," Smith adds about Saturday morning's practice. "He told me I was going to be at X today. I was like ‘man, this is going to be kind of tough'. I can do it though. I played X when I first got here so it wasn't a big deal. It's just basically the alignment for the X. It's not a big deal."
Smith makes a play against Ball State last season.
Best friends with current Auburn receiver James Swinton growing up, Smith was a very good high school football player until a knee injury his senior season kept him from being highly-recruited. Although he still got offers from several smaller schools including Georgia Southern, Smith says a trip to Auburn for a football game with Swinton sealed his fate forever.
"My best friend is James Swinton," Smith says. "I went to high school with him. He invited me to a game and I really didn't know anything about Auburn at the time. I came down and loved the atmosphere. I think it was the Tennessee game my junior year. I experienced the atmosphere of Jordan-Hare Stadium. I loved it and wanted to come down as a walk-on.
"I thought I was a little better than that so I decided to come on (to Auburn)," he adds. "That's another reason why I wanted to come walk-on at Auburn. I thought I was a little better so I decided to walk-on at Auburn."
Being a walk-on isn't the easiest thing in the world and the hardest part is getting noticed to make the team. That wasn't a problem for Smith though as he says it took just one play for him to become a part of Auburn's team his freshman season when he arrived to join the team on the first day of classes.
"I came the first day of school," Smith says. "I can remember the first day I came out here and I made a good catch. Al Borges said I had made the team. I made a diving catch and he was like ‘congratulations you're on the team son'. It's really hard to get noticed being a walk on. You've got all these top athletes from around the country coming and I'm basically a nobody coming in."
Since that day Borges has been one of Smith's biggest fans. Following a redshirt year in 2004 Smith had a very good first year for the Tigers last season with six catches for 109 yards. Although he didn't get much action towards the end of the season Borges says that won't be the case with Smith in 2006, scholarship player or not.
"In terms of deciding who will play, I could care less," Borges says. "It could be a scholarship guy or a non-scholarship guy--if you perform you're going to play. I'm very clear on this and I made this statement after practice again today--the best players are going to play, without anything else entering in to it.
"I believe if the best players don't play and the coach knows that then they ought to fire the coach. You've got to play the best guys who give you the best chance to win. Sometimes you make a judgment and it might not be the right judgment, but as long as you can look yourself in the mirror. I really believe he's the best candidate."
Without any open scholarships available Smith appears to be on the road to being labeled a non-scholarship player for at least another season. While it's something he hopes to change next year, until then he says he'll just keep working on his craft trying to get better.
"I have school paid for right now so if a scholarship comes it comes," Smith says. "I can't really be worried about that right now. I just have to focus about making plays out on the field. If it comes it comes. I'm not really going to stress myself over that right now."
Up to between 185 and 188 pounds depending on the time of day, Smith says that his frame is a lot different than the 168-pounder that first arrived in Auburn. Because of that he says it has helped his game and made him a better receiver.
"I feel a lot more physical in my routes," Smith says. "With Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) those workouts are tough. I thank Coach Yox a lot for that. It really helps a lot and carries over to the field."
Riding high at the moment Smith admits he knows he'll have to keep working hard to hold on to the starting spot opposite Taylor. With Borges saying Hawthorne is pushing hard for the number two spot he could be the next in line to challenge Smith at the top. Until then Smith says he'll just keep on keeping on.
"It's feels real good," Smith says. "It feels good to come here to a D1 school, a top school in the nation. To come here and move up to the first-team, it's a blessing for me. I really thank God. Most walk-ons don't get this opportunity. Don't take any steps back just keep moving forward."