Smith Ready For First Opening Day Start

Considering all the hype surrounding Troy Smith, it's easy to forget that this Saturday against Northern Illinois will be the first time he has started Ohio State's season opener at quarterback. We checked in with Smith earlier this week to get his thoughts on the upcoming season, being named a captain, the Heisman Trophy hype, and much more.

For the first time in his Ohio State career, Troy Smith will open the season as the starting quarterback and he is having a difficult time hiding his excitement.

"It's always a great feeling to go out there and put the Scarlet and Gray on," Smith said. "This year's team has all the promise in the world. Defensively, we're going to be outstanding. I think they've given us all kinds of trouble in practice and I know they are going to do a great job this year."

The talk has already started regarding OSU's big week two match-up at Texas. But a dangerous Northern Illinois team will invade Columbus on Saturday (3:30 p.m., ABC) and Smith says it's the most important game of the year. At least for this week.

"I believe it with all my heart," Smith said. "Every game is an increment or a step that you have to take. Northern Illinois is the first step. The games after will come; you have to deal with Northern Illinois first."

Smith has become a national star over the last year and is being touted for the Heisman Trophy and numerous other awards. But he says he is not letting the attention to go to his head.

"I think one way I handle all of that is I let my mother do all the reading and bragging to folks," he said. "She deserves it. But my focus and where I'm at is with my team all the time. Watching film and doing different things. The guys on the team, we're all a tight-knit group."

But it has to be difficult for Smith not to hear all the talk about him around Columbus, on ESPN and everywhere else.

"I try not to," he said. "I hear it but I'm not listening. Approach it with that attitude. We have a long season, a hard season, and it's going to take complete focus on that game every week to be able to do even be mentioned for those type of awards.

"I've always tried to be an even-keeled guy and not show too much emotion. Not showing when I'm down or when I'm riding high. I just try and give all the credit and the just due to everybody else involved. Sometimes guys don't get the credit they deserve. I still think Antonio Pittman isn't getting his just due nationally. Everybody knows who he is in the state of Ohio, but nationally I think he's one of the top three backs. I'm biased when I say it."

Smith was named one of four captains last week, joining center Doug Datish, and defensive tackles Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson. But Smith has been the unofficial leader of the team for quite a while. He was asked when he first felt like he was the unquestioned leader of the Buckeyes.

"I think it was gradual," Smith said. "It wasn't just a point in time where I said, ‘OK, now it's my turn.' I've been a leader my whole life, so it gradually increased coming from an inner-city school to a huge program like this, of course you have to be able to adjust to some of the new things that may come about. But if I didn't have the strong supporting cast that I have with my family, my coaching staff here and the staff I had when I was at Glenville, I probably wouldn't have been able to make it."

It was a foregone conclusion, but Smith was honored to be named captain by his teammates.

"Man, that's like a dream come true," he said. "There were a lot of people through the early stages of my career and through the later stages of my career in high school that told me I would never be doing some of the things that I'm doing now. And this is a tremendous honor and it's a very, very strong act of humility and pride and passion that I have for the guys here who selected me. For them to be able to look at me in my eyes and think that I would be a formidable leader to lead them this year says everything in the world. It speaks volumes."

Ohio State will begin the season ranked No. 1 in both major polls. There have been seven national championship teams at OSU, including five consensus titles. But one way the 2006 team can distinguish itself is by being the first OSU team to win a national championship after starting the season ranked No. 1.

"It's funny that you bring that up because I think about that the most," Smith said. "Who said that we can't – this 2006-2007 team – write our own ticket and put our place in history doing something that nobody else has done here? That's a huge thing and it takes a tremendous amount of focus, but I believe with these 18 seniors and this great group of guys that we do have, we'll be able to do it."

Much has been said about Smith's film study and his improved ability to read defenses. But just how much freedom will he have to call audibles at the line of scrimmage if he sees something he doesn't like?

"I think I will have the right amount to do that if there is an adjustment there that needs to be made," he said. "But the staff game plans so we won't have to get into situations like that. I put all my trust into the staff to put us in situations and play calls that will pretty much be the right plays. Sometimes during a course of a game you're going to have to make adjustments though, and those adjustments will be made."

Smith received his bachelor's degree in communications following spring quarter and takes a lot of pride in graduating in four years.

"Oh yeah," he said. "I guess it was a long road, long route and my mother always taught me that when you start something, finish it. That was for her. She is a tremendous woman and she's been through a lot and I just wanted to give back to her as much as possible."

And don't look for Smith to take it easy in the classroom this fall. Former USC quarterback Matt Leinart took just one class – ballroom dancing – during his final season in college last year.

"No, I'm going to have a full class load because I'm going to be working towards another degree," Smith said. "It's going to be a full class load and it's going to be another test."

Smith is well-aware of not just the expectations for the Buckeyes as a whole, but for the offense in particular. They are expected to have one of the best units in the country and will be expected to put a lot of points up on the board. And Smith wouldn't have it any other way.

"It's Ohio State," he said. "That's what you get when you sign on the dotted line and you want to attend this university. It's about winning and you have to be that kind of athlete who wants to win in large numbers every week.

"I think that's what makes college football, college football. I think that's what makes Columbus, Columbus: the fans. I think we have the best fans in the country. I think we have the best team, the best facilities, everything. It's a tremendous credit to the guys who were trailblazers for us that make it this way now. I wouldn't be able to sit here and talk to you the way I talk to you now if it wasn't for guys like Cornelius Greene, if it wasn't for Art Schlichter, Bobby Hoying, Craig Krenzel, the whole way. I wouldn't be able to do it."

Smith was asked when it first occurred to him just how big OSU football was to the fans of Ohio and elsewhere.

"I think I noticed that it was hotter than ever when 30,000 fans came out to a practice," he said with a laugh. "Now that's love and loyalty. Diehard people that wouldn't have it any other way."

Smith knows the 2006 Buckeyes are talented, but he thinks team chemistry might be the most important piece of the puzzle if OSU is to reach its goals.

"I think the identity of this year's team will be, hopefully, everyone will be on the same page and we'll finish strong in every phase of the game," he said. "As long as we put everything together and play together as a team with our full ability, the sky is the limit for us. We also need to be consistent. Stepping into each game and being consistent and not peaking too early. Hopefully we can peak at the right time."

Smith is soaking up every moment of his final collegiate season. He enjoys just hanging out with his teammates, or talking shop with the coaches.

"Big time," he said. "Sometimes we as a team joke about the 20-hour rule, as far as the time that we spend at the Woody Hayes facility. But as a fifth-year senior I value that time. Some of the young guys moan and groan about being over there late hours, but when you get to your fifth year and there's no more, you want that, you yearn for that. I wouldn't have it any other way right now."

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