Penn State's Smith uses speed as a weapon

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State speedster Devon Smith got his second glimpse of Southeastern Conference football in eight months this past weekend.

While he was impressed with No. 1 Alabama, he didn't have a whole lot of trouble keeping up with the Crimson Tide players.

"I don't think their speed was that fast," Smith said. "I guess because I'm a fast guy, so I was just kind of keeping up with them."

The diminutive Smith, a 5-foot-7, 157-pound sophomore wide receiver/returner, isn't bragging. He has the credentials -- and speed -- to hang with the fastest players in the country.

Smith ran a 4.19 in the 40-yard dash last year as a freshman, which was among the fastest times in the football program's long history.

As a high school senior in 2008, he led Westlake High School in Waldorf, Md., to a Class 3A state football championship and was a state champion in the 100 and 200 meters. He also established himself as the fastest prep sprinter in the country during indoor track season and challenged the national high school record in the 55-meter dash.

"He's not a big guy, but he sure can fly," wide receiver Justin Brown said.

In the 24-3 loss to Alabama, the versatile Smith set career highs with five catches for 47 yards. He also had two carries for 8 yards. But Penn State's offense failed to produce a touchdown for the first time since 2007 at Michigan, committing four turnovers, including three deep in Crimson Tide territory.

"It kept us out of the game," Smith said of the missed scoring opportunities.

Heading into No. 22 Penn State's non-conference game Saturday against Kent State at Beaver Stadium, Smith is the Nittany Lions' third-leading receiver with six receptions for 74 yards, a 12.3 average. He has four rushes for 15 yards and one punt return for 20 yards. His 109 all-purpose yards rank fifth on the team.

"He's going to have a big factor in the offense, no question about it," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. "He's a really good football player with a lot of speed.

"I'm not sure how many times he touched the ball [Saturday], but he shows guys that when he does, you've got to hold your breath."

The shifty Smith, who also can return kickoffs, is proving to be a nice changeup for an offense that has gotten off to a sputtering start.

All of Penn State's top receivers have a decided height advantage over Smith, who made his first career start against Youngstown State.

Brett Brackett, a 6-6 former quarterback, leads all receivers with nine catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns, but he is not quick or flashy.

Derek Moye, a 6-5 former two-time PIAA champion sprinter from Rochester High School, has eight receptions for 130 yards.

Brown (6-3) has four catches for 55 yards and Chaz Powell (6-1) two catches for 9 yards.

Smith said the key to him being successful "is getting me the ball in open spaces. I need an opportunity to make a move on a defender."

Smith's career got off to a fast start with the Lions last year. He had 75 all-purpose yards in his first collegiate game against Akron in the opener -- two kickoff returns for 43 yards, two catches for 25 yards and one carry for 7 yards.

But three weeks later, Smith had a mild concussion against Iowa and sat out the following week against Illinois. His playing time was limited after that.

Although he played in 11 games last season, he was on the field for just 100 snaps and had four catches for 30 yards.

But so far this season, coach Joe Paterno has liked what he has seen from Smith.

"Devon is a good, tough kid," Paterno said. "He's a good competitor."


Ron Musselman: rmusselman@post-gazette.com .


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