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Dallas -- What a difference a year makes for Kyle Padron. At his time in 2009, the 6-foot-4 quarterback was a freshman at SMU and coming into a system he knew little about.
And for the first seven games of last season, he sat on the bench and learned all he could from practice and by watching starter Bo Levi Mitchell. However, when Mitchell went down on October 24 at Houston, Padron got his chance.
Against the 17th-ranked Cougars, he was 11-of-16 for 141 yards and one touchdown. The true freshman was also sacked three times as UH defeated the Ponies, 38-15.
But the following week, Padron got his first start at Tulsa and responded, going 20-of-30 for 354 yards and a pair of touchdowns as the Mustangs handed the Golden Hurricane a 27-13 loss on their home field.
He started the rest of 2010 and was 5-1 as the starter. The talented quarterback saved his best performance for last as he threw for 460 yards and two touchdowns in SMU's Aloha Bowl win over Nevada, a showing that earned him game MVP honors.
While it was a solid debut for Padron, he also realizes that 2010 is a new season.
"Last year is last year. I watched tape of every single game in the off-season, so I learned every mistake I made and every good play we made," he said by phone. "I think what's really helped me going into this camp and this season is that I've really put all that behind me and look forward to this season."
But the SMU quarterback admits he is a bit more confident this year as the incumbent under center for June Jones.
on Hawaii MVP performance
And when the Ponies reported for the start of two-a-days a few weeks ago, he reported looking a bit bigger than he was as a true freshman.
"I added some muscle. I'm about 15 pounds heavier than what I was last year when I was playing," Padron said. "I'm at 220 now, a little bit more physical body. I'm not going to run anybody over by any means but I'll be able to absorb more contact than I did last year. I also wanted to work on being more accurate with the football."
That bulked-up physique drew some humorous responses from his teammates.
"Coach Jones hasn't really said anything to me but my teammates joke about it and say that I'm a big quarterback now. They joke about [Tim] Tebow and stuff but I'm not anywhere near his level," Padron said. "He's about 240 and just solid. We're all joking about it. I'm a big guy but nowhere near as big as he is."
He feels that added muscle will allow him to absorb more hits and become much more durable than he was in 2009, two things that will benefit the Mustangs as they begin their quest toward their goal of winning the Conference USA title.
"That's absolutely what the goal is. We haven't really set on it but we have to do the right things to get there," Padron said. "You've got to do the right things as a team-guys going to class and being accountable. Everything you do is going to reflect on our season. Whether it's going to class, doing your workouts or showing up to meetings on time, those little intangibles are what make us a great football team."
One big difference this fall is that he will no longer have Emmanuel Sanders, who caught 98 passes for 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns last fall, to throw the ball to. Sanders went in the third round of April's NFL Draft to the Steelers.
"Anytime you have a guy that goes in the third round of the NFL Draft it's tough to replace him. We've got some young guys that are going to step up," he said. "You're going to see Darius Johnson come in and take over Emmanuel's spot. We've got Bradley Haynes that is going to come in and be a different kind of receiver for us. He's one of those big body kind of guys. Last year, Emmanuel [Sanders] got most of the throws. This year, it's going to be spread out more."
Padron clearly feels good about having experienced receivers like Beasley and Robinson back in the mix.
"Cole Beasley, he's come a long way. In the off-season, he watched a lot of Wes Welker tapes to see how he gets open and uses his quickness to get around guys in the NFL," he said. "Al[drick Robinson], he's a 4.3-40 kind of guy. There aren't many guys in the country that can cover him one-on-one. With our speed cuts and the way we run routes, it's going to be hard for people to cover us."
He also lost another quality pass catcher when running back Shawnbrey McNeal left school early for the NFL. But Padron likes how the backfield rotation is shaping up for 2010.
"We've got about five or six guys that can play. We've got two freshmen that came in, Kevin Pope and Darrell Fields," he said. "They're all pretty much different backs. Kevin [Pope], he's more of a downhill runner. He's not going to try and juke anybody. He's going to bulldoze and try to run over people. Zach Line is more of a power back. Chris Butler is going to take over most of the carries I think."
And since his epic performance against the Wolf Pack on ESPN around Christmas, he admits he is getting recognized a bit more on campus than he did last year. However, he takes all the added attention in stride.
"More so than last year, I think the only reason was because the game was on TV and more people were able to watch it," Padron said. "I'm definitely more visible on campus. It's fun but I don't think about that too much."
SMU figures to get a good test right off the bat by opening the season on Sunday, September 5 against Texas Tech in Lubbock. It's a challenge he and his teammates await.
"It's a hostile stadium. We know it's going to be pretty crowded," Padron said. "We've heard their fans are pretty rowdy and occasionally throw things. We're ready for it. It's going to be fun. [We] just look forward to playing a big team like that. We're ready for the challenge. Hopefully we can come out with a victory."
The Mustangs figure to be an underdog in that contest but that's just fine with their starting quarterback as well as his fellow Mustangs.
"I think the biggest thing is people are going to be ready to play us this year. You saw East Carolina come in [last year] and I felt like they overlooked us a little bit," Padron said. "We came out and shocked them. People aren't going to overlook us this year. Yeah, we'll be underdogs in a lot of our games, but they definitely won't overlook us because they know what happened last year."
In seven games last year, he threw for 1922 yards and 10 touchdowns. The SMU quarterback also had a passer rating of 159.9, fifth-best in the nation to earn a spot on the C-USA All-Freshman Team. If he can even come close to duplicating those numbers and the Mustangs match or surpass their success from last year, then it might not be long before Kyle Padron is no longer one of the best kept secrets in college football.