The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

College Sports

October 17, 2010

Geno 'already a vet'

MORGANTOWN — Damon Cogdell made many contributions to the West Virginia football program during his playing career as a linebacker in 1997 and 1998.

Apparently he is still giving.

Cogdell, now the coach at Miami’s Mirimar High School, was instrumental in getting Geno Smith to West Virginia.

And the dividends are adding up.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Smith has been sensational over his six career starts, completing 121 of 177 passes for 1,358 yards and 14 touchdowns with just two interceptions.

It wasn’t just the fact that Cogdell spoke highly of his alma mater. It’s that he allowed Smith a freedom rarely afforded high school quarterbacks.

“His coach Damon Cogdell down at Mirimar High School did a wonderful job of allowing him to call games as a youngster,” offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen said after Smith went 24-of-31 for 219 yards and two scores in a 20-6 win over South Florida Thursday night. “And, of course, Geno is a very smart kid.”

“It helped me a lot,” Smith said. “A lot of times out there you have to focus on the defense, and when you have to do that in high school, it really helps you see the little things. In college, I’m seeing coverages because I can watch film and see little things. When you see it on film, you can see it on the field.”

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris and Central Florida quarterback Jeff Godfrey, like Smith Florida natives, also called their own plays in high school, Smith said.

“We all came out of the same system,” he said. “We were all given that freedom.”

Many point to the Mountaineers’ epic comeback win at Marshall, when Smith led WVU back from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter with drives of 90-plus yards, as the point that signaled his arrival.

“They started writing stories about him after the Marshall game, after those two drives,” coach Bill Stewart said. “And he is a good player. It’s what, his sixth collegiate start. I saw him do some things out there tonight (against South Florida) that I was really pleased with.”

Perhaps he’s maturation showed the most on a long drive in the third to answer a South Florida field goal that had made it 17-6.

Twice he completed passes on third-down situations, including a 14-yarder to Brad Starks on third-and-12 and a 29-yarder to Tavon Austin on third-and-17. The longer one was a key play.

“Big time,” Stewart said. “(South Florida) made a mistake and tried to rush three and went in a cover-8. Geno knows that right now. For a sophomore youngster making his sixth start tells you he is really coming. It’s gonna be a lot of fun around here with him.”

The light hasn’t just come on for Smith. It’s been on, according to his teammates.

“Geno knows the game,” Starks said. “He’s a well rounded athlete. He gets us in the plays when needed. I just think he’s going to take us far.

“I felt that Geno had this since he came in, even as a freshman, when he was a backup,” Starks said. “He’s had that gift to be able to read defenses and get us into the right plays ever since he has been here.”

“He’s very advanced,” safety Robert Sands said. “He comes up and checks off, checks pass protections, changes plays, reads coverages well, takes care of the ball. He does it all. He’s playing well. He’s controlling He is a general out there and that’s what quarterback is supposed to do. Lead the team.”

Smith, who finished second in the voting for Mr. Football in Florida as a senior, has already gained a reputation as a film junkie, of sorts, putting in a lot of his own time at the Puskar Center studying tape.

“Aside from the hours we are assigned to watch films with the coaches? I can’t really put an X amount on it,” Smith said. “But I watch a lot of film. It’s something I have to do. If we want to win, you have to scout your (opponent). It’s something I have to do. And it’s something, when you play quarterback at this level, that comes with the job. It’s my job to watch film.”

He also hates turnovers. Teammates said his first interception of the year, in the season opener, ate at the quarterback well into the next week.

“I hate turnovers,” Smith said. “I hate those turnovers. It’s not still bothering me, but in the back of my mind I know, ‘Take care of the ball.’ That’s our standard here. You don’t turn the ball over, you win games.”

“He’s a vet in my eyes already,” slot receiver Jock Sanders, a senior, said. “Geno knows how to make the right decision, right away without making the INT (interception). Not to knock any of our previous quarterbacks, but with Geno, that’s the thing. He doesn’t really turn the ball over that much. Six games, two turnovers. He doesn’t turn the ball over.

“That’s a competitive quarterback. That’s in his nature. He doesn’t want that pick. He wants it back. Knowing that he is that competitive, that he is always going to compete at a high level like that, that gives us an edge on offense.”

As a leader, he also takes ownership of mistakes when they are made. Like the three sacks in the South Florida game.

“The two or three sacks we did have are all on me,” Smith said. “Those guys (on the offensive line) are protecting me. I just held on to the ball too long.”

The sky is certainly the limit after West Virginia’s 5-1 start. He is clearly the best quarterback in the Big East, but realizes he has a lot left to do.

“I think I’m getting more confident in the pocket,” he said. “My first game, I was getting happy feet. Now I’m standing in the pocket, sliding, doing different things. I think I’ll continue to get better.

“I think the more coach Mullen and the staff and players gain confidence in me, the better we are going to be and the more they are going to put on my plate. I’ve said it before. With the receivers we have, with Noel and Jock and Tavon, all those weapons, the only one that can stop us is us. We have to finish games better, but we are going to do that.”

Stewart sees that, too.

“He’s trying to get us in the perfect call every time and he’s pretty close to doing it,” the coach said.

— E-mail: demorrison@

register-herald.com

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