Benefit of the doubt (cont.)
Posted: Thursday January 24, 2008 10:25AM; Updated: Thursday January 24, 2008 10:25AM
Bommarito compares Smith's long-striding, up-right running style to Adrian Peterson, a high first-round pick in 2007, who went on to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Smith would love to emulate Peterson's pro credentials. But he already has him beat in college. In fact, only the legendary Barry Sanders (2,628 yards in 1988) rushed for more yards in a single college season than Smith (see chart).
Hearing the huge numbers being discussed, one of Smith's fellow draft prospects at Perfect Competition teased: "You didn't play anyone!"
Smith shot back: "I guess Texas was nobody. I guess Mississippi State was nobody."
And that is typical of the Smith story -- doubters abound. It has happened ever since high school, when Smith was switched from running back to safety as a senior.
Given what we know now, it was a horrendous decision for Miami's Southridge High. But first-year head coach Rodney Hunter had his reasons at the time. "We didn't have much of an offensive line," Hunter said. "I did not think Kevin could last the season at running back. That's why we moved him to free safety.
"He enjoyed playing safety. He never objected, never complained. He did ask a few times if we could get him some carries at running back, and we did that."
Smith said he accepted the new position for a simple reason. "I"m a football player," said Smith, who intercepted four passes and returned a fumble for a touchdown as a senior. "If you put me at center, I will make the best of it."
The position switch probably kept him from getting a chance to sign with a major-conference team. Florida State, which recruited him during his junior season, stopped calling when he moved to safety. Florida did not recruit him at all.
And what about Miami, his hometown team?
"The 'Canes never even called me," Smith said with a loud cackle, seemingly still shocked by Miami's lack of, well, vision. "I remembered when I told people I was going to sign with Central Florida. People would ask me, 'what's that, a junior college?'"
Before Smith, the school's claim to fame was quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who is still the Knights' only first-round NFL draft pick. Last season, Smith helped the Knights set a school record with 10 wins, qualifying for a bowl game. They also set a school record with a seven-game win streak.
Still, some Knights fans were upset when Smith announced he was turning pro, especially since he had announced before the bowl game that he would stay at UCF.
"It was a tough decision, but I gave UCF all I had," Smith said. "A lot of people said that if I came back, I would be the Heisman frontrunner, the talk of the nation. But after the bowl game, I thought about it more. All those people who were telling me to come back, were they going to take care of my mom if I got hurt?"
Pamela Smith, a 50-year-old teacher, raised Kevin and older brother Cedric, 23, as a single mother. Pamela and the boys' father, Mario, divorced soon after Kevin was born. Pamela and her boys also withstood Hurricane Andrew and a some serious health problems that plagued Cedric early in his life.
When he was six months old, Cedric nearly died from spinal meningitis. Six years later, while riding his bike, Cedric was struck by a car and miraculously survived.
Now Kevin wants to give back to his mom. The only job he ever had was for a couple of months in high school, earning $375 every other week for putting up guard rails on the Florida Turnpike.
Smith was asked if he could anticipate what it would be like to make millions in the NFL.
"I can't even imagine," he said. "I just know it will be spent well. Not even spent -- invested. The first thing I am going to do is open a day care for my mom to run. We are going to call it Pam's Place. I can see it now ..."
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