Someday soon, the new Ohio State wide receivers coach thinks he will wake up and realize it's simply been a dream. All of it – the hiring in the program his grandfather once famously led, the fact that it's come at the age of 27 and the chance to learn yet again at the feet of the game's hottest head coach.
"You know, I'll tell you (how it feels) tomorrow when I wake up and I'm not," Smith said about his new job. " ‘What the heck just happened. It was a sweet dream for a month.' It's surreal. When you get your dream job, when you get to the place that you've always dreamt of working or playing or coaching, whatever, it's just a great feeling.
That's right, the Dublin, Ohio, native, Dublin Coffman graduate and grandson of Earle Bruce says he's now found himself in his dream job – and it's hard to disagree. His hiring caps a rapid ascension from Bowling Green walk-on to full-time position coach at a place like Ohio State, a quick climb up the football ladder for someone who is well aware of what that means.
"It's hard to really verbalize how awesome it really is," he said. "A place that you grow up loving, and when I got into this profession, it's a place that is your dream place. It's a place that you say, ‘Man, how awesome would it be to go there?' To actually do it is indescribable really. It's a great opportunity and I'm fortunate that Coach Meyer gave me the opportunity and my grandfather obviously was here."
Smith first became indoctrinated in Ohio State football as a youngster. He was only 3 years old when Bruce was fired but was growing up in Dublin when the former OSU mentor's career came to a close and Bruce transitioned into working as a popular radio analyst in town.
"It was a part of my everyday life," Smith said. "By the time I was of age to know what was going on, he was back here doing a radio show and going to every game. I'd go to games with my grandmother. If I didn't go to the game I'd surely watch it.
"It's not only the obvious family influences, but you guys know this state and this city. You just love Ohio State if you're from here. Obviously my grandfather heightened that, but it is something that's been a part of my life since I can remember."
Playing in Ohio Stadium wouldn't be in the cards, though, so Smith followed Meyer – a one-time Bruce assistant turned confidant – to Bowling Green as a walk-on. After starting there, Smith finished his academic career at Florida, where he was reunited with Meyer in 2005.
For five years, Smith worked for the Ashtabula, Ohio, native, as a special teams quality control coach and then an offensive graduate assistant, doing everything from player evaluation to occasional on-field mentoring.
That prepared him to take over as the full-time wideouts coach in 2010 at Marshall under former Meyer assistant Doc Holliday, a job that allowed Smith to return to Ohio Stadium as the Thundering Herd played Ohio State in that year's season opener.
He was on the move again last year, going to Temple to serve under another former Meyer assistant, Steve Addazio. Temple went on to win nine games and a bowl while boasting the seventh-best rushing offense in the nation.
That success for the Owls might serve as a premonition for what Smith will be looking for in his wideouts in 2012.
"You won't play on the field if you can't do a couple of things," he said. "First is you have to be able to block. We'll be the best blocking receivers in the country. You have to be able to make big plays. You have to be able to catch the ball and make something happen, right? Those are the two things that if you can't do those two, you're not going to be on the field."
He'll have some work cut out for him this year with Ohio State's receivers unit, which struggled during 2011. With senior DeVier Posey suspended for 10 games and opening-day starters Philly Brown and Verlon Reed fighting injuries, Ohio State's wideouts combined for only 65 catches led by 14 apiece by Brown and true freshman Devin Smith.
Zach Smith said he hasn't had a chance to figure out exactly what went wrong in 2011, but he looks forward to working with Brown, Reed, Smith and the rest of the group going forward.
"I just know them from meeting them, talking to them and the few workouts we've had, but I'm really excited about them," the coach said. "They're a young, talented group that we're going to get to watch develop over the next eight months and we'll see what we got, but I'm fired up about it. I know there's some talented kids.
"The best thing that they have going right now is they're young and they have experience. Usually right now you're walking into a situation with a freshman or a sophomore that watched other guys play and was sitting there like, ‘Oh man, I wonder what that's like.' Now we're walking into a situation where the kid already knows."
Getting those players up to snuff will be his main concern, and Smith admitted he feels some pressure. That comes not only from the fact that he's coaching at a place as important to him as Ohio State but the fact that he's the youngest person on the new Buckeye staff, but Smith doesn't suffer from any lack of confidence either.
"If you don't (work) to get your dream job, what do you do it for? I really don't see anything about it being negative, but there is pressure obviously," he said. "The fact that Coach Meyer thought that highly of me to bring me to this great university when he really could have hired anyone in the country is really flattering, but at the same time, I know that I've earned it and I know I'll do a great job for him."
Meyer doesn't seem to have any concerns that Smith will fit in seamlessly.
"I know what a quality coach Zach is," Meyer said. "He knows my system inside and out and he teaches the system the way I want it to be taught."