By Gary Fauber
When Kevin Smith was being recruited out of traditional prep power South ridge High in Miami, most schools wanted him to play safety.
Looks like Central Florida coach George O’Leary was the big winner in those sweepstakes.
With record-setting running back Alex Haynes finishing up his career, Smith opted to play college football at UCF.
“Everything seemed to fit into what I wanted to do,” Smith said Wednesday on a media teleconference. “Alex Haynes was going to be leaving and I felt I had a chance to play.
“I liked the atmosphere and the vibes from the team, so I decided this is where I want to be.”
O’Leary and Golden Knights fans are delirious with that decision.
Only a junior, Smith has already eclipsed Haynes’ career rushing total with 3,372 yards. He broke the mark in Sunday’s 34-17 win over Southern Miss when he rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns on a school-record 43 carries.
Smith, 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, also holds UCF records for rushing touchdowns in a season (16), overall touchdowns (17) and career 100-yard games (16).
Of course, as all running backs do, Smith credits the offensive line for his achievements.
“I wish when they put me in the record book that they could put who plays on the offensive line for me,” he said. “It’s an honor to be there.”
“He understands that it’s a team game,” O’Leary added on the conference call. “He is only interested in team wins. I think he understands that when the team wins, the individual awards will come.”
On the season, Smith has 1,260 yards, giving him an average of 157.5 per game. That number is second in the nation behind Tulane’s Matt Forte, a Conference USA foe who averages 192.4 after four straight 200-yard games.
“I think it says Conference USA has some quality running backs,” Smith said. “We have lot of running backs who can put up some numbers”
O’Leary said he knew he had something special in Smith during summer workouts before his freshman season. It was then he showed a toughness most freshmen don’t exhibit.
“He is taking cuts that you can’t teach,” O’Leary said. “You either have it or you don’t.”
Smith also displayed his durability with his 43-carry night against Southern Miss. That upped his season average to 30 carries per game.
“(It felt) like a job,” Smith said. “You don’t really know how many carries you got until somebody tells you after the game. (I would have guessed) about 30, what I usually get every game.”
Forty-three is a lot of carries, but UCF fans surely are comfortable any time Smith has the ball in his hands.