NEWS

Speedster Smith looking to play more for the Eagles

John R. Johnson

Unlike his predecessor at Boston College, new BC football coach Jeff Jagodzinski is a man of many words. Yet, when it comes to describing sophomore running back Jeff Smith, he opted for a single superlative: speed.

Blazing speed would be more like it. Last year Smith atoned for fumbling his first career kickoff return against Clemson by returning the next one 96 electrifying yards for a touchdown. He finished the game with five kick returns for 213 yards, the second highest single game total in school history.

"You can't coach speed; you've either got it, or you don't," Jagodzinski said.

Smith has it, all right. The 5-9, 191-pound speedster from Silver Lake High School finished second in the nation at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in the 200 meters (21.15) during his senior year in high school. He also won the 2006 Massachusetts (21.01) and New England (20.89) outdoor titles in the 200, and holds the state record in the event.

Last year, Smith was used almost exclusively as a kick returner, seeing action in all 13 games as a true freshman. He finished the year as the No. 1 kickoff return man in the Atlantic Coast Conference - and eighth nationally - with an average of 28 yards per return. Smith, 19, acknowledged that he didn't learn BC's offensive playbook well enough last year, something that prevented the staff from integrating him further into BC's offense. He had two rushing plays against Maine for eight yards.

This year, the new BC staff, which has installed a wide-open offensive game plan, plans to incorporate Smith into the game plan as much as possible.

"We need to get the ball in Jeff Smith's hands," Jagodzinski said. "Any time you have a playmaker of his ability, you need to get the ball into your playmaker's hands. He'll be in on kickoff returns, maybe punts, he'll play some receiver and some tailback, so we'll do a lot of things with him. We've got to get the ball in his hands."

That became especially evident after BC's second intra-squad scrimmage, when Smith was a shining star on an otherwise average offensive day. Smith rushed for a team-high 69 yards on 14 carries, proving that he has recovered from a slight groin injury in camp. With a few more performances like that, Smith could climb the depth chart at running back. For now, he realizes that he has a pair of senior running backs ahead of him in L.V. Whitworth and Andre Callender, and a capable junior in A.J. Brooks. Whitworth has been hurt, but he and Callender have rushed for more than 4,000 yards between them.

"It was a little frustrating not getting the ball more last year, but I was really young, and I didn't know the offense that well," Smith said. "I was smaller last year, too. I can almost understand why I didn't get more playing time, but it was frustrating.

He hopes this year will be different.

"Personally I want to have a better year kick returning this season. Last year I had a few good games, but I want to be more consistent. I had a couple of good kick returns here and there, but I'd like to read kick returns better and get more yards on them and hopefully get in the offense more."

He seems well on his way to doing so.