No Backseat For Smallwood

As Wendell Smallwood was getting ready for his first day of fall camp this season, running backs coach JaJuan Seider relayed a simple message to him.

"We were just stretching and he was just like, 'Don't think about nothing. Don't think about redshirting, don't take a backseat to anybody. Don't just sit back,'" Smallwood recalled. "He made me get after it a lot. He had my back."

After that talk, Smallwood began his ascent up the West Virginia depth chart heading into the 2013 season.

A freshman from Eastern Christian Academy in Maryland, Smallwood entered WVU last spring after graduating from the school a semester early in hopes of getting a head start on making a name for himself in the backfield. But he was expected to bide his time at first with the likes of juniors Andrew Buie, Dustin Garrison and Dreamius Smith taking up spots ahead of him.

And that competition only got tougher once Charles Sims brought three years of starting experience with him to Morgantown. It didn't look like an ideal situation for him to be in, but Smallwood remembered what Seider had told him. He wasn't going to accept taking a redshirt and not getting to play in 2013 just because there were older players who started the preseason in front of him on the depth chart.

He was determined to break into that rotation in the backfield.

"I wasn't going to let that make me stray away," he said. "I think that made me better. It made me bring my A-game throughout camp. I didn't relax, I didn't get too comfortable."

As camp moved along and the Mountaineers got closer to the start of the season, there was one constant thing that kept coming up when the coaching staff would take about the running backs. Sure, they knew guys like Sims and Smith would be able to make an impact - as would Garrison, who led the team in rushing in 2011. But Smallwood was turning heads. He was convincing them that not only did he deserve to not sit 2013 out and take a redshirt but he could contribute in a big way.

When Holgorsen released his depth chart at the end of camp, Smallwood was listed as the team's No. 2 back, behind Sims.

And when West Virginia took the field against William & Mary last week, Smallwood played a big role. He only carried the ball four times for 22 yards, but it was one of his plays that proved to be the difference maker. His two-yard touchdown with 3:22 to play gave West Virginia the lead for good against the Tribe, closing out a second-half run of 17-straight points en route to the 24-17 victory.

"I knew I was getting the ball and I knew I was getting into the end zone no matter what," Smallwood said. "I just wanted to keep pushing, keep fighting. No matter what."

Getting to make that kind of play in an actual college football game was the first sign that the decision to come to WVU and to arrive on campus early had paid off. Even if it wasn't the easiest transition to make.

Of course, it helped that Smallwood had Daikiel Shorts, a freshman inside receiver and one of his best friends from high school, on the team with him. They were both there to help each other through the difficult times that come with adjusting to college life at first.

And neither let the other give up. They knew it could pay off in the end.

"He pushes me if I'm having a bad day," Smallwood said. "He'll come up to me and pick me up and make sure I'm good. And if it's the opposite, I do the same for him."

That first game was a bit surreal, Smallwood admitted Tuesday. After waiting so long to find out what it would actually feel like to suit up in a game at this level, it sunk in pretty early Saturday against William & Mary.

"I think it was when I was on kickoff return," he said. "I was back deep and I just kind of looked around at everything and all I could think was, 'This is amazing.'"


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