Bill Hass on the ACC: Maryland Receiver Torrey Smith Enjoys Multi-Dimensional Role
Oct. 8, 2009
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – Ask Torrey Smith about his various roles on Maryland’s football team and he’s quick to reply.
“I love it,” he said. “I take pride in being a football player, not just a receiver. I want to take on whatever roles I can to help our team win, whether it’s catching the ball, running with the ball, running down to make the tackle or blocking on punt returns. It’s part of being a football player – being multi-dimensional, not just limited to one thing.”
In statistics, Smith’s contributions are measured in a category called “all-purpose yardage.” That combines a player’s yards in receptions, rushes and kick returns. Through five games this season, Smith’s all-purpose average is 230.6 yards per game, which leads the ACC and is second in the NCAA. He has scored three touchdowns on pass receptions, one on a rush and one on a kickoff return.
In addition, Smith also plays as a “gunner” on the punt coverage team and the punt block team, although he said he’s being cut back on those as the season goes along.
Those tidbits tell you just how good Smith is on the field. But they don’t tell you anything about him off the field. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen can fill in those blanks.
“As good a football player as he is, he’s a better person,” Friedgen said. “He’s very unselfish, he’s a very giving person, he’s actively involved in community service. He’s very well-respected by our players, just a wonderful kid to be around, a good student, never a problem. I have a saying here that I want guys who are low maintenance and high production, and he fills that role.”
Friedgen mentioned that Smith, the oldest of seven children, is the head of the household in Stratford, Va.
“I’m 20 (years old) and, the youngest, the baby girl, is 7,” Smith said. “I was raised in a single-parent household, so I was pretty much like their father figure. I did it all, from cooking to cleaning, making sure everything was straight.
“My mom was working two jobs, so I had a big role to play and it helped me mature faster. Everything that comes with being a parent, I did it.”
A third-year sophomore, Smith still feels it’s important for him to be a role model.
“I feel I’m obligated to making the right decisions both on and off the field because (my siblings) do look up to me,” he explained. “I feel like I carry the weight of not only my brothers and sisters but also my whole area and my hometown, which is like 3,000 people. A lot of younger guys look up to me and I need to set an example. You have to practice what you preach.”
One of the things he practices is making sure he completes his education. Most talented college players dream about playing in the NFL and Smith is good enough that he could be a pretty high draft pick down the road. But that’s not his first priority.
“I’m majoring in criminal justice and communications,” he said. “I know I’m going to graduate with both of them, then I have the rest of my senior year (his fifth year in school) to work toward my master’s. I should have a better idea of what I want to do then. I want to use (college) itself for meeting new people, networking, and hopefully when I get out of here I can go out and get a job right away.
“I came to college with the goal of graduating. I came in focused solely on academics. Football was just my way of getting here. I definitely understand the value of an education and that’s something I’m going to make sure I get.”
With that uncommon maturity, it’s no wonder Smith is making an impact on the football field. A high school quarterback, more of a runner than passer, he was recruited as a defensive back, receiver and quarterback. He liked the idea of being a receiver in college, making something happen from the outside of the play, away from what he calls “all the bad guys.”
Of course, he had to learn the position from scratch, which he did during his redshirt season. Friedgen said that when he watched tape of Smith making plays with the scout team, he thought Smith could have helped the Terps as a true freshman. But the decision was made to keep the red shirt on him.
Last year, Smith really began to catch on midway through the season, starting the final six games. He finished with 24 catches, averaging 14 yards per catch.
“With me, everything was tough,” he said. “I understood coverages a little bit from being a quarterback in high school, where I had control at the line of scrimmage. It was just a little different being on the outside and everything was complicated for me at first.”
One thing that helped him was the presence of Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland’s big threat at receiver last year. Heyward-Bey, now with the Oakland Raiders, taught Smith to learn how to watch film and prepare mentally for the defenses he would face.
“I was kind of just out there last year, like a chicken with my head cut off,” Smith said. “He talked to me about preparing, watching film, doing the little things to understand what they’re going to do. It helps you play faster.”
Smith said he has grown mentally so that he’s able to just go play football. This year Smith has 21 catches for 449 yards and an eye-catching average of 21.4 yards and is just scratching the surface of his ability.
“I think he’s going to continue to improve and get better and better,” Friedgen said. “I see him growing with every game.”
Returning kickoffs is something Smith has been doing since high school. He returned four for scores as a sophomore and after that, teams rarely kicked to him. It might become that way in college, too.
“First and foremost, you’ve got to have great blocking,” he said of his returns. “You’ve got to hit it and go; you can’t really dance around too much like you can on punt returns. As soon as you get even with the kicker, or the kicker is out of the picture, you’ve got to expect to score. If you don’t, you’re going to hear it from everyone else if the kicker makes the tackle.”
The coach that has to worry about containing Smith this week is Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe, whose Deacons host the Terps Saturday.
“We really thought we had dodged a bullet when Heyward-Bey came out early (for the NFL draft),” Grobe said. “We thought that might take a little pressure off our defense. But with this kid, they haven’t missed a beat. In fact, this kid is probably a better receiver. He catches the ball better, he’s got the great foot speed, he can hurt you running the football or catching it.
“And then, of course, with his kick-returning ability, everywhere you look he’s a problem. He’s something that’s keeping our defensive coaches up at night and he’s certainly a heck of a football player.”
Grobe said his kickoff coverage team will work on staying in their lanes, taking good pursuit angles to the ball and covering at full speed. Even then, Smith is so good at making tacklers miss that an option would be sky kicks or squib kicks on kickoffs.
With Maryland coming off a win over Clemson and standing 1-0 in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, the game takes on added importance.
“We’re a little more focused, confident, knowing we can go out and compete with some of the better teams,” Smith said. “That’s probably the biggest thing for us, having confidence from winning. Things hadn’t been going our way, we were beating ourselves, so it was fun to see us put everything together
“We’re not perfect, we’re far from it. We’re leaving a lot of plays on the field, still making a lot of mistakes, all stuff that coach Friedgen has us working on in practice. We’re not taking off just because we won one game; we’re going to work hard and bring it every week and chase our goals and see what happens the rest of the season.”
Whatever happens, expect Torrey Smith to play a big role in the results.
“I’m going to leave it all on the field to get it done for my team,” he said.
All those who look up to him would expect nothing less.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March, 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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