July 20, 2012
By Jon Cooper
No one has ever won a National Championship in July.
Still, July isn’t too early to set goals or have them set for you.
The latter might take the form of a spot on one of the various preseason award watch lists. Georgia Tech had its fourth player named to one of these prestigious lists Thursday, when senior A-Back Orwin Smith was named to the preseason Doak Walker Award watch list. Junior Linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu was named to the Lombardi Award watch list, junior center Jay Finch is on the Rimington Trophy list and senior guard Omoregie Uzzi is on the watch list for the Outland Trophy.
Smith is one of 52 backs on the Doak Walker Award Watch List, many of whom are better-known. But despite his dark-horse candidacy, being in such select company means a lot.
“I’m just grateful to even be on the list because there are some other great running backs on that list,” said the senior A-Back. “It was a great feeling. I told my parents about it and everything, and I just sort of celebrated.”
The award, named for SMU’s three-time All-American and given to the nation’s top running back, was first presented in 1997. It is the only major collegiate award that requires all candidates to be in good academic standing and on schedule to graduate within a year of other students of the same classification.
Smith is the first Georgia Tech running back to make the list since Jonathan Dwyer in 2009.
He said it was great to follow in Dwyer’s shoes and hopes the Yellow Jackets can follow in the shoes of the ’09 team, which went 11-3, beat Clemson in the ACC Championship Game then reached the FedEx Orange Bowl, claiming the school’s first BCS berth.
The senior A-Back believes that for Tech to make those things to happen he will need to have the kind of year Dwyer had in ’09, when he was a semifinalist for the award.
Smith is optimistic, having recovered from toe surgery, even though the operation forced him to the sidelines for Spring Practice.
“I’m feeling great, and I’m definitely running faster,” he said. “I’m not having the pain like I did the last six years that I’ve been playing ball. Just to run pain-free is amazing and I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s going to happen this year. I’m looking forward to another great year.”
In 2011, Smith was dynamic, running for a career-best 632 yards on 61 carries, a 10.1 yards-per-carry average. He averaged 25.5 yards per reception (13 catches for 306 yards and a TD), 19.6 yards per kickoff return (18 returns for 352 yards) and led the team with 1,273 all-purpose yards (106.1 yards per game). Smith scored 12 touchdowns (fourth in the ACC), among them a school-record 95-yard dash to pay dirt against Kansas, and a 77-yard run against Western Carolina. Smith has three of the longest 18 runs in school history.
That taste of success whet his appetite for 2012.
“Last year motivated me to go ever harder,” said Smith, whose previous career-high in rushing yards had been 516 yards on 53 carries in 13 games in 2010. “Last year’s stats were pretty good. I just feel I can do so much better. I feel like I need to do better in order for us to win more games and go further.”
Running sans the pain in his right toe that had become so commonplace that he’d simply learned to play through it, Smith expects to build on his 9.7 yards per carry career average (1,157 yards on 119 carries), the best in ACC history for a running back with over 1,000 yards.
He’s counting on his off-season work with new strength coach John Sisk to make him even more of a threat.
“I would like to be more explosive,” he said. “With Coach Sisk coming in, he’s been working on guys getting more explosive. As a running back you can’t be explosive enough. I feel like I can always be faster, too. Just working on proper techniques and form, all the small details I’ve been working on because this is my last year and I’m really trying to get into it.”
Getting into the ’12 season will help keep Smith from focusing on it being his final season on The Flats and, of course, those postseason awards.
“It is bittersweet. These years at Georgia Tech have been the best years of my life,” he said. “I don’t think I will ever be able to replace this experience. It definitely came faster than I thought. I’m ready to celebrate and have an awesome year.”