Smith Making Impact On, Off Field

As Rod Smith turned into an upperclassman a season ago, he didn't get the anticipated bump on the football field after an impressive 2012 campaign. But going into his senior year, Smith has a fresh outlook on life as he tries to help the team both on and off the field.

When Roderick Smith was in high school, future stardom was projected.

There's no use running from it. When you're the No. 8 running back in the nation coming out of high school, as Smith was after he ran for 1,855 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Paul Harding, there are natural expectations.

And Smith has come close to meeting them at times. After redshirting as a freshman in 2010 at Ohio State, Smith immediately moved into the rotation in 2011. He and Carlos Hyde were the only two healthy scholarship backs to begin the campaign, so Smith ran 18 times for 74 yards and a touchdown in his first collegiate game vs. Akron.

Battling fumbling issues, though, Smith ended up with just 11 more carries that season. He had an OSU running backs-best 33-yard run for a touchdown vs. Nebraska in 2012, and his sophomore year included a 6.7-yards-per-carry average on 33 rushes that seemed to point to good things down the road.

But a year ago, with Carlos Hyde the feature back and freshmen Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott turning heads, Smith's production waned. As a junior, he just six rushes for 19 yards and caught a single pass.

In his career, he's been moved to linebacker, admitted to off-field mistakes and buried on the depth chart. So how is Smith responding going into what will be his final campaign at Ohio State?

By just doing his thing. With Hyde gone, there's quite a competition for carries between players like Smith, Elliott and class of 2012 members Warren Ball and Brionte Dunn, but Smith isn't worried about that. He's just making sure everyone, including himself, is ready to go come Aug. 30 vs. Navy.

"The door is open for everybody," he said. "But at the same time I'm the oldest in the group, so I have to be a big brother. We all know what we're fighting for. I'm going to go out there and I'm trying to win the spot, but at the same time I have to help the young guys, too."

After all, being in a position battle is nothing new to Smith, so after five years in the program, he knows how to handle it. He also knows what it takes to win, having been in the program for two BCS-winning campaigns as well as the 24-2 to mark to begin head coach Urban Meyer's tenure.

So far, his work on and off the field has caught the eye of running backs coach Stan Drayton, who said there are reasons someone with Smith's talent has fallen behind in past seasons.

"Rod is doing a phenomenal job right now," said Drayton, who mentioned Smith began the spring as the No. 2 back behind Elliott. "He's more physical than he's ever been. Rod being a 6-2½ back, it's a little bit rougher for him. Everything is longer – the arms are longer, so that's why you saw a little bit of the struggles with ball security earlier in his career. He didn't break a whole lot of tackles, and that's all because he didn't know how to drop his hips. It's a lot tougher to drop your hips when you're 6-2½ than if you're 5-10, 5-11.

"Really, he was Bambi-ish for his first three years of college football. Now he's starting to grow into that body and learn how to use it and create power angles for himself, and it's starting to really show. He is on the right track. I'm excited for Rod."

Smith also has the perspective to understand why things haven't worked out before, why the three-year stat line reads 67 carries, 350 yards and four touchdown runs.

"I know I had some good players ahead of me, but this is my last year so maybe this will be my year," Smith said. "I feel like this will be a good year for me, but at the same time, it's going to be a good year no matter what for the backs."

And there's that line again. Multiple times during a five-minute interview last week, Smith pointed to his teammates and the running back room as a whole as where his focus is. He's embracing the dual role of being a leader and being someone who wants to finally make the impact on the field that was predicted five years ago.

"Oh yeah, I want it," he said. "I know it's my last year, so I'm getting ready for next year. I have next year ahead of me. I'm focused on trying to get that starting spot, but at the same time be a big brother to the young guys. I'm the oldest guy in the room so I have to help out, keep them out of trouble. It's going to be a good battle this year."

Add it all up and Smith seems happy. He's happy to be a senior and happy to be a leader. And if he happens to be a featured back, that would be even better.

"I definitely feel like I put in my time," he said. "All winter, I've been working hard, trying to compete. I feel I'm in top-notch shape, the best shape I've ever been in. I feel like this could be a good year for me."

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