St. Louis running back Markel Smith scored at a rapid pace. The senior totaled 33 touchdowns last fall at St. John Vianney High School.
Unfortunately for Smith, he fell one point short on his biggest test, the ACT. He landed at Milford Academy (New Berlin, N.Y.) this fall instead of the University of Iowa.
It's not surprising that Smith is producing on the field at prep school, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. Saturday, he's shooting to cross the academic goal line. It's the first of three tries he'll get this fall to add the passing point to his ACT score.
"(The Milford Academy teachers) get us ready for the test. I think I'm prepared. It's crazy that a couple of questions can determine somebody's life," he said.
If Smith achieves his qualifying score, he'd finish up at Milford in December and enroll at Iowa the following month. The Hawkeyes are sticking with him.
"I talk to the coaches every week," Smith said. "They just tell me to stay focused and that they can't wait to get me out there for the second semester."
Scout.com rated Smith (5-11, 220) as a four-star prospect and the No. 23 running back nationally in the 2014 recruiting class. He was the Hawkeyes' highest-ranked player in the group. He rolled up 2,416 yards as a senior and 7,145 in his career.
"Adversity comes and goes. It was very disappointing to me when I found out I had to come here or go the JUCO route. I'm adapted to it now. When I first got here, it was hard. We're in New Berlin. It's kind of off in the middle of nowhere," he said.
Without distractions, Smith adjusted to Milford's structure after a few weeks, he said.
"He started off slow," Head Coach Bill Chaplick said. "We run our (summer training) camp like a college camp. It's a lot of hours. We start at six in the morning. We have double sessions plus a workout in the weight room. It's different than what they're used to in high school. He's on the right track now."
Chaplick said the Falcon roster boasts 24 players headed to either FBS or FCS programs. They test each other on the field daily. Combine that with the discipline and academic routine at Milford, and the institution meets the needs of students in preparing them for college.
"You have to wear a shirt and tie with a blue blazer and khaki pants. You have to get up in the morning at the crack of dawn. You go to the weight room. You then go to a mandatory breakfast followed by mandatory class. It's a different lifestyle than going to high school. It's very intense," Chaplick said.
Smith totaled 23 carries for 48 yards in his first three games at Milford. During his last two contests, he racked up 169 yards and two touchdowns on 19 attempts. He ripped off a 71-yard scoring run last week against Army Prep but did something else that most impressed Chaplick.
"There was an interception and he ran about 55 or 60 yards, took an angle and stopped the kid from scoring. We ended up holding on defense. So, he's not only doing it as a running back, he's doing it as a pure football player," the coach said.
Chaplick has coached a lot of outstanding athletes in his 16 seasons at Milford. Running backs LeSean McCoy (Pitt), Graig Cooper (Miami), Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn), Fred Rusell (Iowa) and Shonn Greene (Iowa) were among those he sent to major colleges.
"I don't want to compare. I always get myself in trouble doing that but we've had great running backs here. Our history is second to none," he said.
Russell started at Iowa for two years (2003-04), twice rushing for more than a 1,000 yards in a campaign during the Iowa's best run under Coach Kirk Ferentz. Greene won the '08 Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back after setting the school's single-season records with 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.
"It's inspirational," Smith said. "They went to the same school and were in the same predicament. If they can do it, I can do it. It's just a matter of staying focused."
Hawkeye junior Dean Tsopanides intended to attend Milford. He participated in a combine at the prep school, impressed former Iowa Assistant Ken O'Keefe, and was awarded a scholarship right out of Torrington (CT) High.
"I would do anything I could for Coach Ferentz," Chaplick said. "I've known him for a long time. Anytime I call, he picks the phone up and takes my call. I believe in what he does there. I always tell everybody that if I had a son that played football, I would definitely want him to play for Kirk. Our relationship is strong and long term."
The Iowa coaches are set to visit Milford during their next bye week (Oct. 20), Chaplick said. They could find another player or two that they like on the Falcon roster.
"I don't know what their needs will be by the time they get here," Chaplick said. "In I-A football, you might not need something when you walk in but when you get in and see it, you can't pass on it. We're always happy when they say they're physically going to come."
The Hawkeyes, at the very least, can check in on Smith's progress. They're in need of a running back in this class.
"This experience has made me appreciate a lot of things a lot more; just life period," Smith said. "Don't take anything for granted."