#STINGDAILY: Smith Ready for Comeback Senior Year

July 26, 2012

by Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –

As is the case annually, Orwin Smith is jazzed by the thought of cranking up football for real again and not just because he and Georgia Tech will before long kick off his senior season with a nationally-televised Labor Day night game at Virginia Tech.

Georgia Tech’s top running back — a young man who has clocked an average of 9.7 yards per carry and 14.6 yards per carry/catch/kickoff return combined — finally has his feet under him, both of them. That’s a very big step in the right direction.

When the Yellow Jackets report next Thursday for the start of fall camp, and especially when they gather on the field all together Friday with coaches for the first time since the spring practices and scrimmages in which Smith and his surgically-repaired right big toe did not participate, he’ll be ready to glide yet again, and without pain for a change.

If you’ve never had Turf Toe, which is to say a sprain right under the big digit where it tucks into the foot, be happy. It’s miserable. If you’ve never had a bunion on your foot, be very glad.

If you have ever had both in the same very small zip code, wince in recollection and then rejoice in the fact that you’re a kindred spirit of sorts with one of the most talented backs in the ACC, and perhaps the nation.

By the end of last season, when Smith put together a four-game closing stretch over which he rushed a modest 12 times for 62 yards, missed the Duke game entirely, and lost a yard on his only carry in Tech’s bowl game, that toe was killing him.

Blessed be the surgeon who last winter lopped that bunion and put the pieces of an out-of-whack toe/foot back together properly.

“In my case, the ligament was shifted in the wrong spot because I had a bunion. They shaved the bunion down,” Smith said. “Even my shoe felt different; it wasn’t tight [after surgery and rehabilitation].”

In that surgery, that ligament was moved back into its intended track. Over time, an already quick and fast young man got back to where he was, and then set out to grow more from there.

Smith’s notorious for his workout habits. He loves resistance training, weight suits, jumping and working in some sort of pool. He did more of it between his sophomore year and his junior year than ever before, and the payoff was obvious over the first two-thirds of the season — even though that toe was bothering him all the while.

On the first play of Tech’s season, Smith went five yards as if shot out of a cannon to score against Western Carolina. Two games later, and a week after Tony Zenon scored on the Jackets’ first play of their game against Middle Tennessee State, Smith again scored on the game’s first play. He then went 95 yards against Kansas.

His full potential was on display that day. The Phenix City, Ala., native became and remains the only player in Tech’s long football history to rush for more than 100 yards (five carries, 157 yards, one touchdown) and catch more than 100 yards (two catches, 108 yards, one touchdown) in the same game. The Jayhawks still have nightmares about No. 17, probably.

He’s been back at it with all the training. After being held out of spring ball, he said he anticipates being able to participate completely in fall ball, although that decision will ultimately include input from head coach Paul Johnson and the Tech staff.

“Last year I put in a good amount of work . . . and I feel like it paid off for me,” he said. “This whole summer, I’ve done that and more. I don’t feel any pain although Turf Toe doesn’t ever go completely away. I’m very excited for this year. The first game is a big game.

Last year, I didn’t end like I started so I’m really eager to start off like last year and keep it going. It’s a big year, my last year, and I want to make the best of it.”

Johnson has something like that in mind.

The Tech coach said last week at the ACC media gathering that he envisions featuring Smith more in the offense than the Jackets typically do with an A back.

That only makes sense, even if opponents know it.

Smith’s career average of 9.7 yards per carry is highest in ACC history among players with 1,000 or more career rushing yards (1,157). Last season, even with the slowdown as his toe grew much worse, he averaged only 10.1 on an admittedly modest 61 carries (and a TD more than once every five totes, as he rushed for 11).

So, he views improvement in the conditioning — and to some degree size — of Tech’s offensive linemen, “as a plus,” and like so many of his teammates, Smith is thrilled with his preparation to date, and the approach of strength and conditioning coach John Sisk and his impact on every Jacket.

“We has all kinds of guys just pumped up with energy every day. It’s definitely a different vibe than the few years I’ve been here,” Smith said. “It’s better to want to than to feel like you have to. Coach Sisk is doing a great job. The way he treats us and what he demands of us, I feel like guys are more willing to give.”

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