In seventh grade Geno submitted his drawings and was admitted to Norland Middle School's arts-intensive magnet program. One of his teachers, Linda Atkinson, told The New York Times that Smith was adept at capturing the subtleties and emotions of the human face, especially his characters' eyes.
"That's what I started drawing first," says Smith, "because eyes are the hardest. Lips and noses are no big deal, but everyone's eyes are different. There's a lot going on. You've got shadowing, lashes, reflection of light coming off the eye itself...."
Smith's eyes—his ability to recognize more than his peers, and recognize it more quickly—helped him excel in football. He still recalls the thrill he felt as a 12-year-old, the first time he changed a play at the line of scrimmage. "I checked off into a slant," he says. "We scored, and I was thinking, I could do this every time."
During his junior season at Miramar High, he nearly did do it every time during a game against Blanche Ely, whose marquee player was a defensive back named Patrick Peterson, a future All-America at LSU who went fifth in the 2011 draft to the Cardinals and has made the last two Pro Bowls. Ely blitzed incessantly, "So we checked off into slants all night," recalls Geno, who torched Peterson and the Tigers for four touchdowns in a 39--14 romp.
Smith's head never got too big, even after he was named the Class 6A player of the year as a senior. "Once you walk in the door of this house," says Tracey, "there are no celebrities. Everyone does their own laundry."
At West Virginia he started as a sophomore for the late Bill Stewart, who was succeeded after the 2010 season by Holgorsen, a former Mike Leach disciple who'd spent the previous decade coordinating high-octane offenses at Texas Tech, Houston and Oklahoma State. While Stewart's scheme had its up-tempo elements, it was still a crude, simple instrument compared with Holgorsen's highly evolved iteration of the Air Raid, and it would take Smith more than half the season to get the hang of it.
When the light finally went on for him, it was blinding for opposing defenses. The Mountaineers won four of their last five games in 2011, clinching the Big East title and earning a bid to the Orange Bowl, where Smith threw six touchdowns and was named MVP in a 70--33 dismantling of Clemson. He kept that momentum rolling the following season. In attendance at Milan Puskar Stadium for that 70--63 win over Baylor—mouths agape—were the West Virginia athletic director and his son, who also happens to play quarterback.
If I could be reincarnated, Oliver Luck remembers telling his son, Andrew, whose Colts had a bye that weekend, "I'd come back as a high school senior running one of these offenses. It just looks like so much fun!"
That fun ended abruptly in Lubbock last Oct. 13. After dashing to a 5--0 start and a No. 5 ranking, Smith & Co. were spanked by Texas Tech 49--14. A 55--14 drubbing awaited the following week at Kansas State, and then three straight losses in shootouts against TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. West Virginia finished the season ranked ninth in scoring with 39.5 points per game—but there was no hiding their 114th-ranked scoring defense, which yielded barely a point less per outing. In the final game of his career, in the wind and snow at Yankee Stadium, site of the Pinstripe Bowl, Smith took two safeties and lost a fumble (he recovered two others) in losing 38--14 to Syracuse.
Nawrocki mentions that game in his report, bludgeoning Smith for his lack of pocket presence and ball security. And you know what? says Geno. The guy has a point. Smith lost 32 fumbles in his career. He realizes that he needs to develop better awareness, to get rid of balls before he gets hit. He knows he needs to clean up his footwork.