Smith Earning His Way Back

Junior quarterback Troy Smith will be suspended for one more game for taking money from a booster. But when he returns against Texas in week two, what will happen? Smith discussed that and more during his first conversation with the media this spring.

Junior Troy Smith once again finds himself fighting for the starting quarterback position at Ohio State.

Following Smith's outstanding performance in OSU's 37-21 win over Michigan in 2004, it seemed like a forgone conclusion that he would be the Buckeyes' starter for the next two seasons.

However, it was learned that he had accepted money from a booster. He was immediately suspended for the Alamo Bowl.

Smith is now obviously back with team, and will play in the spring game, but he will be suspended for one more game: the 2005 opener against Miami University.

When he returns the following week against Texas, it is anyone's guess what will happen. However, it is very hard to imagine Justin Zwick leading the Bucks to victory over Miami, then being benched for the Texas game. At best, Smith will probably play off the bench against Texas, then hope to win the starting job later in the season.

"That's not a decision or something that I can make," Smith said of recapturing the starting job. "That's lies solely on the staff. Just for the betterment of the team, getting ready for Miami of Ohio, which is the first game of the season, which we have to win. If we don't win that game, then Texas game means nothing."

Head coach Jim Tressel has mentioned that Smith understands he must start at the bottom and work his way back up.

"Just with the respect of the program and of my teammates, with a decision like that, don't expect to be high and mighty when you come back, because you sort of have to build yourself back up," Smith said. "Just with that respect for my guys and the organization, Ohio State in general, knowing that you've got to step back in and fill the void."

But Smith admits he wants to play as soon as he becomes eligible.

"Any player that is in a situation where they have played before and had to sit out, wants to play again," he said. "And any player that hasn't got on the field wants to play. I could kind of be biased towards myself, but I've always said it's something bigger than me. It's not just about me."

Smith says that he is tired of answering questions about the past, but understands it comes with the territory.

"It is kind of frustrating, but then again, this is my life," Smith said. "This is what it is. Gotta make due with what it is."

Smith was asked if he blames himself for the situation with the booster.

"For the most part, I can only put it on myself, because the decision was made by me," he said. "But, coming this fall, being able to just come to school and do the things that I've done already, you know, as far as some great accomplishments that I am proud of myself about."

Smith enjoys the fact that expectations are high for this year's OSU team.

"I'm anxious to be able to start the 2005 season," he said. "This is a big season for us. Coming in (as one of the top recruiting classes in the nation in) 2002, this was the year we were supposed to win the national championship. All the fans and everybody were saying this was going to be the year for us. We sort of have to live up to the hype, but then again, just relax and play within the realm of the team that we have and our personnel."

And Smith says a national title is very much a possibility for the 2005 Buckeyes.

"We've been here before," he said. "Coming in 2002, we were kind of spoiled. Well, I know I was. Year before I watched Nebraska and Miami and that was huge. And then my first year in college, we had a chance to go to the national championship and win it. I was in awe. So, now I know what it feels like. I know what it tastes like. We have to get back there."

Ohio State has an explosive group of receivers, led by Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez.

"Top notch. Top notch," Smith said of the wideouts. "We've got a gang of guys out there who are just hungry. They want the ball all the time; want to be able to make a play.

"And I want to talk about the offensive line too, because they're doing a great job of coming along. Leaders like Rob Sims, Nick Mangold, Doug Datish, T.J. Downing, those guys are out there doing their job. They're all doing their things."

Smith and Ginn know each other well from their days together at Cleveland Glenville High School. They only played one year of prep ball together, but were always close friends.

"Just coming from him, you feel nothing but positive energy," Smith said of Ginn. "A player that wants to learn and wants to get better day in and day out. Wisdom and time are only going to do nothing but make him better."

Ginn didn't even play very much the first half of the 2004 season. With a full season to wreak havoc, the sky is the limit for Ginn in 2005. And when Smith is in the game, he intends on getting Ginn the ball as much as possible.

"It could be great. It could be great," Smith said. "But not just playing, getting him the ball. You know, a lot of players get out there and they play, but they don't get the ball. You've got to get your playmakers the ball."

Having so many good receivers can be a dream come true for a quarterback, but it can also be a nightmare if everyone's unhappy about not getting the ball enough.

"I wouldn't say it makes it easier, because with guys wanting the ball, you sometimes have egos," Smith said. "But we're lucky and we're fortunate enough to have a group of guys that don't just worry about themselves. It's not just about me, it's about the team. You know, the whole way around. When it's 11 guys on the field, it's about the team."

Smith was asked how good of a quarterback he can be this season.

"I think I'll be as good as I come along," he said. "As good as I evolve, as good as I take in the offense and do my job as a quarterback. I'll be as good as that."

Smith has begun the process of paying back the money he accepted from the booster.

"Oh yeah," he said.

But he has not made full restitution at this time.

"Well, if it was that easy, it would have already been taken care of," he said. "But it's gradually coming along."

Smith says he does not get to choose which charity the money goes to.

"No, I don't get to pick," he said.

Although he still has to field questions about it, and has to sit out one more game, Smith is glad that the situation is almost behind him. Being away from the team during the Alamo Bowl was tougher than he imagined.

"Tremendous amount of pressure being lifted off," he said. "Just being able to be back out there with the guys. There's an old saying: you never miss your water 'till the well runs dry. And I didn't really miss my guys that much until I wasn't with them. That showed up a lot and I appreciate my players now even more than ever."

Smith is determined to play hard this spring and make it a tough decision for the coaching staff.

"That's me," he said. "It's been that way my whole life. Twenty years. That motivational drive to do whatever that it is in front of me – the task at hand. I go at it 110 percent and give it my all."

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