He graduated from Ohio State in June with a bachelor's degree in communication. He came to Chicago for the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon festivities and was promptly named the preseason conference offensive player of the year. And for good measure, he is also on the short list – with Notre Dame's Brady Quinn and Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, among others – to contend for the 2006 Heisman Trophy.
The old Troy Smith may have let some of the trappings of all this acclaim trap him. But the current Troy Smith seems to have his head firmly on his shoulders.
"I still operate out of a sense of hunger and getting better every day," Smith said Monday. "(The awards) are nice things, but I try to give all of the credit to my teammates because without them they wouldn't mention me for those kind of things."
The 6-1, 215-pound Smith has earned his place at the head of the class. He has put together a 13-2 record as OSU's starting quarterback over the last two years, including a seven-game winning streak to wrap up the 2005 season.
Smith ended 2005 on a high note by throwing for 300 yards in a come-from-behind 25-21 win at Michigan. Then, he eclipsed that career high by throwing for 342 yards in OSU's 34-20 win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. Smith also led the Big Ten and finished sixth nationally with a 162.7 pass efficiency rating while throwing for 2,282 yards and 16 touchdowns on the year.
"There were times early on in the season where we had chances to open it up, but we didn't cash in," Smith said. "It wasn't just the end of the season and we opened it up. We had chances and opportunities early on. We just didn't cash in."
OSU coach Jim Tressel talked about the ways the once-brash Smith has improved his game.
"I think his consistency has become much better," Tressel said. "He showed us a lot back in 2004 that he can make some plays and do some things, but would he do it consistently? I thought what 2005 showed was that as he got into that season, all of a sudden there was a consistent quarterback. I thought he followed it up with a consistent spring. Now we'll see how he can take it when we begin the games in the fall."
Tressel looked back at where he saw Smith make that leap.
"I thought the first, what I would call razor sharp game, that he played was Iowa," Tressel said. Early in the year, he had some good moments. But I thought he came out against Iowa and probably graded a winning performance and played with the consistency we'd like him to have."
One by one, Big Ten coaches stood before the media and gave testimonials for why Smith should be considered the league's top quarterback – at least heading into the year.
"You have to have a trigger," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "Ohio State has a guy who, every time he takes a snap, is going to make something happen. Anytime you have a quarterback like that, it gives you a chance."
The Growing Up Process
These are tough times to be a part of the Ohio State football family. The team congregates on Sunday to begin preseason camp. But two offensive assistant coaches, Jim Bollman and Joe Daniels, have dealt with life threatening health problems this summer.
Bollman underwent heart surgery in May and Daniels was recently diagnosed with cancer. Smith made sure he went out of his way to reach out to both of these veteran coaches in their time of need.
When the coaches could not come to the office, Smith took football to each coach's living room. He spent time reviewing video with both Bollman and Daniels in their homes.
"They have helped me along the way and I just wanted to show them that I still have them in my thoughts at all times," Smith said. "Hopefully, that says enough. They are both warriors in everything they are fighting through. They're getting through it and they look good when you see them.
"For a guy to show up on your doorstep and wanting to watch films as a college athlete, who could have been doing so many other things that don't pertain to football or his sport in general, and he shows up on a summer day wanting to do something, I think that says a lot."
Smith did not let Bollman hardly get comfortable with his home environment.
"They had just set up his film box and I stopped through and we watched a couple hours of film," Smith said. "We did that about three or four times. He was excited because during that down time all he was doing was walking around the neighborhood.
"When he would watch films, he would only watch certain games. I wouldn't let him just watch certain games. We had to start from the top to the bottom. I drilled him with questions the whole time."
Likewise, Smith tried to keep Daniels in the loop.
"I had seen him in the hospital a couple of times and he looked OK," Smith said.
Did he just drop by unannounced?
"No, I called them on the phone and set up appointments," Smith said, laughing.
Visiting his ailing coaches isn't the only thing Smith did this summer. He also got his degree in four years and has now begun a 100-hour course of studies to lead toward a second degree in African American studies.
"I take all the pride in the world on that," Smith said. "It is such a weight and a relief lifted off any student's shoulders when they have their bachelor's degree. Growing up, they said, ‘Get your college degree. Get your college degree.' And to be able to get it, it feels so great when it's finally done.
"I'm starting toward another degree. I am going to start in African American studies and then audit some classes in real estate. As long as I'm here, I want to get the hard classes out of the way now than come back years from now and start over. Real estate is my dream. That's what I want to get into."
Is he serious about getting that second degree – particularly if a possible pro football career takes precedence next year?
"I wouldn't start it if I didn't intend to finish it," he said.
One Hot Summer
Smith seems to be OSU's unquestioned team leader. After redshirting on OSU's 2002 national championship team, Smith knew somebody needed to take the bull by the horns.
"The thing the 2002 team had was leaders," Smith said. "They kept everybody on the same page."
Smith helped preside over OSU's voluntary team workouts this summer.
"It went real well this summer," he said. "For the first summer since I've been here, we did 11 on 11 multiple times. Two days out of the week we did seven on seven and also 11 on 11. We pretty much ran it the way the coaches ran it. We probably had the best participation so far."
Smith was asked if he will approach the early season showdowns with Texas and Penn State as revenge matches.
"I don't work off revenge," he said. "What happens happens. A new year is a new year. We just have to move on."
Although people are mentioning Smith for the Heisman, he says his key receiver and former Cleveland Glenville teammate Ted Ginn Jr. would be his top choice.
"He's got my vote, by far," Smith said. "When we started, I thought he was the most exciting player in college football and I still do. We need to get him as many touches as possible. If we can get the ball in Ted's hands, he will make things happen.
"Ted is getting a lot of attention, but we need to mention some other guys like Anthony Gonzalez, who is going to be a tremendous receiver for us this year. Roy Hall is going to do a great job. Our guy that is being forgotten through all of this is Antonio Pittman, who was a 1,300-yard rusher last season."
Smith was asked who he patterns his game after.
"I can't just say one guy in particular," he said. "My top three in the league would probably have to be Tom Brady, because he is a winner first and foremost, Peyton Manning, because he uses his mind to dissect people, and Donovan McNabb, because of his arm strength."
And, to the bitter end, Smith said the fact he has turned over a new leaf and he is surrounded by such high caliber coaches and teammates is why he is in this very enviable position.
"It's like night and day for me," he said. "It's a total sense of urgency in terms of being there for my teammates. Those are the things I took for granted before.
"I wouldn't be in this situation if I wasn't a humble guy. For me, first and foremost I was in situations where I had to assess myself as a man and as a college athlete and know there is more at risk and at stake than the silly decisions I make."