Purchase photos

Tigers' Smith hopes to seize opportunity

9/3/2014

By NICK McQUEEN

By NICK McQUEEN

nmcqueen@dailynews.net

In the last four seasons, the run game for the Fort Hays State University football team has been all about Smith -- times two.

Andre Smith was the starter, and Edward Smith was the backup. At least, that was supposed to be the case two seasons ago when Edward Smith, then a junior, went down with injury in the second game of the season against Washburn University.

Thanks to a medical redshirt, though, in 2012, Edward Smith now looks to make the most of his opportunity as the senior running back in the Tiger offense.

"Since I was a freshman, I've loved being here. I've always felt welcome," said Smith, who along with the Tigers, will look to start on a high note in Thursday's 7 p.m. opener against the University of Central Oklahoma at Lewis Field Stadium.

"From being a freshman to now is so different, just because I kind of see the young guys and think 'That was me,' "  Smith said. "Now I'm the old guy and I can kind of help them out with whatever they need."

The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Smith is the only player on the roster to have seen the field under former Tiger coach Kevin Verdugo, and has seen a progression in the program from when he first arrived, along with an improvement in his own game.

"We've come together closer as a family -- as a team," said Smith, who rushed for 411 yards on 74 carries with eight TDs last season as the backup. "Offense, defense, we all hang out together. Everyone is closer now.

"That's the biggest change. Everything is just better, and in a more positive way."

In his freshman year (2010), Smith rushed for 101 yards on 15 attempts with two scores. Then, he played a bigger role in 2011. He played in all 11 games, was the team's second-leading rusher with 748 yards, and had a team-best six rushing touchdowns. Two seasons ago, he carried the ball 17 times for 46 yards in the season opener, but was injured on his first carry in Week 2, and didn't see another down.

He's looking forward to being the No.1 guy in the backfield, though, he's been held back a bit in practice to keep him healthy. He knows there are guys waiting in the wings as well.

"When I was a freshman, I was fast, but I wasn't as explosive as I am now," he said. "I've been working out, and been doing the summer thing big time. I've got way more explosive since I was a freshman until now."

But he also was a proven commodity, and check down weapon for Albert last season. He caught 22 passes for 106 yards and scored a receiving TD. He attributes his success to becoming more a part of a team, rather than looking for a big score on every play -- as he did when he first arrived at the college level.

"It just comes with the process," Smith said. "You have to get what you can get. You can't be looking for the big play all the time. You just have to get down hill, and get those yards you need to help the team win the game."

He looks to carry on a strong run game that was before headed up by Andre Smith, who had 1,013 yards on 188 carries. The Tiger backfield, though, looks to be Smith -- party of one.

"He showed me the way, he showed me what I need to do to be a feature back in the system,"  Edward Smith said of Andre. "My mentality hasn't really changed, but I learned a little bit more from him."