NC State's Smith eager for increased role in new offense
Now he's poised for much more in the Wolfpack's new offense under first-year head coach Dave Doeren.
"I took it as there's an opportunity to show other people what I can do," Smith said of the coaching change. "It's a chance for myself to make the coaches believe in me, so I had to buy into the system early so we could build a successful offense."
Under Tom O'Brien last season, Smith managed 19 catches and played fewer than 30 snaps in 10 of 13 games while also handling punt return duties.
A 5-foot-11 senior from Dublin, Ga., Smith had a big performance in the Wolfpack's spring game, which was the team's first chance to run Doeren's no-huddle scheme under game situations. And Doeren, who left Northern Illinois to take over at NC State, is expecting a lot from Smith.
"He's a playmaker and he's hungry and he's got a chip on his shoulder," Doeren said. "Those things usually equal what you want: production. I haven't seen anything that we've asked him to do that he hasn't been able to do yet -- knock on wood. I hope he keeps going that way.
"I like the guy, man. I wish I had a lot more guys that understood how important it is to practice and play the way he does with the energy he has every day."
Frisman Jackson, Smith's position coach and a former NFL receiver, said he thought Smith had the best spring of any Wolfpack receiver and took advantage of the clean-slate opportunity that came with the arrival of new coaches.
"We think he can be a guy that can be a threat down the field and be a guy that we can do some of our jetsweeps to because he does a good job with the ball in his hands," Jackson said. "He showed a little bit of it in the spring game of what he can do after the catch. That's real big in our offense, having a guy that can take a hitch or a slant and get us yards after the catch."
Smith finished last year with 315 yards receiving and five touchdowns, four going for at least 18 yards with the longest being a 33-yarder against South Alabama. He also had a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown against The Citadel.
But Smith had eight catches for 84 yards -- both were team highs -- and was a constant target of quarterback Pete Thomas in the spring game in April.
Smith arrived in Raleigh in 2009 and started his second college game at cornerback before an ankle injury cost him two games. He eventually returned to the starting lineup only to suffer a knee injury against Boston College that sidelined him five games then forced him to redshirt the 2010 season.
In 2011, he played receiver for the first time before eventually moving back to cornerback by the end of the year. He even played both ways twice that year, the first Wolfpack player in six years to play offense and defense in the same game.
By last season, his first full year as a receiver, the frustration had built because of a lack of playing time and a constantly changing role. Brenda Williams, Smith's mother, said her son even kicked around the possibility of transferring.
"We had a big talk about it," she said. "I told him, 'Just hang in there.' His education was the big thing. That was the real reason he was there, to get that degree. It was just to do what they tell him to do. If you play, you play. If you don't, you don't. Just don't get so frustrated. It was really eating at him. It was tearing him up because he wanted to play."
And now? Williams said she hadn't seen her son "this excited" since going to NC State, a feeling captured in a phone call from him during spring drills.
"He said, 'Mama, this is the first time I've ever enjoyed going to football practice since I've been here,' " Williams said.
Smith is eager to play the fast tempo that could wear down defenses. He said he's focused on being a leader as a senior, down to coordinating runs around campus or the surrounding area five days a week with teammates to ensure everyone's in the best shape possible.
The chance to make big plays is just a bonus.
"We can really take a toll on the defense," Smith said. "The more plays we run, the faster we line up, we can get the other team tired. We can score more points. It opens up a lot of opportunities for everybody to make a play."