"It feels good to be out here," he said. "I feel 100%. I've got a lot of energy built up."
A whole lot of energy. With all the delays and detours experienced in just two shortened Mississippi State years, it's a wonder Smith is not throwing sparks from overload. This is a talented young blocker who repeatedly has gone into a season or a spring expected to start at a guard slot; only to have issues with both ankles set him back. In 2008 it was a serious injury in the first scrimmage game that forced Smith to redshirt as a true freshman.
Last fall it was another scrimmage injury, to the other ankle ironically, that sidelined him for weeks following an August procedure. And when Smith did get into action it was for brief and struggling stints against Georgia Tech, Houston, and Alabama.
Yet here he is, lining up as the first-team right guard from the opening snap of spring 2010. And, he says, feeling better than ever. "Because I'm lighter and quicker and even more powerful."
Indeed, while frustrated by lack of on-field time, Smith has clearly made the most of his time in Mississippi State's strength and conditioning program. The two words must be applied, by the way, because this is a much stronger sophomore and an even better-conditioned Bulldog. Having arrived on campus out of Columbus High School carrying close to an unofficial 340 pounds, Smith hit the spring practice field at a practically-svelte 305. Needless to note this slimmed-down physique will help ease some of the strain on ankles that have been asked to support too much bulk for too many years.
Yet the trimmer, tauter Bulldog is not the least bit less stout when push comes to shove.
"I mean, I'm smaller but I've got stronger," he said. "Like, I'm more explosive and whatever." Then again ‘smaller' is a relative term because there are areas Smith is bigger, as a flexed bicep proves. "21-1/2 inches!" he boasts…before denying he has had the sleeve on both undershirt and jersey trimmed shorter to show off the guns.
"Nah, it just rolled-up, the sleeves don't want to stay down!" he claims. "It shows the work over the off-season. I mean, there ain't no such thing as coming in the weightroom and not working now with Coach Balis in there. Everybody works hard, some people just show it quicker than others."
Meanwhile the Bulldog offensive line wants to put on a better show during their second camp under Coach John Hevesy's direction. Even though forced to observe more than he did play, Smith was able to pick up most of the idea during 2009; while teammates put practice into action last fall. It hasn't taken the soph long to get up to speed with the rest of the first-line, though Smith points out his assignment to #1 right guard over the winter was not merely a matter of being handed a job.
"It's not just come in and they slot me in, it's hard work in the off-season and all that. And I'm getting better with the plays and stuff, getting better technique and skills. I was working on football skills during the off-season, and that all helps when we come out here." Based on early spring camp showings, the same is true for the whole first offensive line. Besides, Smith adds, practicing ought to be easier the second-time-around in any system. Especially this one.
"Yeah, because we know what we're doing. And when you know what you're doing you feel confident, you can play faster." How about better? Well, that won't be known one way or the other until September…but indications are encouraging. During the first scrimmage situations of this spring, the offense came back hard at the end of a long day's work to, as Smith put it, "redeem ourselves down there on the goal line" by scoring a do-or-run touchdown.
"It was getting kind of heavy and it was kind of a big risk. Because you know, we had two half-gassers and if we had lost it would have run four. We got in, so we got (to run) one!" Which, added Smith, makes a point about progress on the Bulldog offensive line when they go helmet-to-helmet in 2010 spring scrimmaging with their proud, not to say cocky, defensive counterparts.
"We're always going to hold our own, they ain't going to dog us! It ain't going to be like that! They have to come out here with their jockstraps in their hands."