Bruising RB joins crowded Mountaineer backfield

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Dreamius Smith had his dreams dashed two summers ago when he, then a highly rated running back prospect, was ruled ineligible to enroll at Kansas.

Smith's grades at Wichita Heights High School had been fine, but after taking the ACT time and time again he couldn't score high enough, so the Jayhawks turned the three-star recruit away. He went, instead, to Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kansas, an all but forgotten man in the college football world.

A second chance came after Smith registered 984 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on 120 carries last fall to lead Butler to the national junior-college title game. He received offers from West Virginia, Boise State, Houston, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and, again, his home-state Jayhawks.

The 5-foot-11, 217-pound tailback chose the Mountaineers and joined a stable of running backs that includes accomplished transfer Charles Sims and veterans Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison.

"It's been quite a ride," said Smith, a junior. "I knew if I just kept my head up, kept working hard every day and kept my grades up, I knew it would eventually pay off -- and it has."

The West Virginia coaching staff has been vocal with its support of Smith. The bruising back will factor into the mix this fall -- he already has been used as a ballcarrier, a blocker and slot receiver.

"He's got great ball skills," said running backs coach JaJuan Seider. "Just the way he looks -- you don't even think he's running, but he's one of the fastest guys on the team. The next thing you know, he's going for 70 or 80 yards and our safety can't catch him. He's deceptive."

Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson warned that despite Smith's size and strength he shouldn't be considered as only a between-the-tackles runner.

"When he gets out in the open, he'll outrun you in a hurry," Dawson said.

With Garrison recovering from a knee injury last fall, Buie became the Mountaineers' featured running back last season. West Virginia now has the luxury of fielding several potential every-down rushers. Still, Smith insists, there will be enough carries to go around in the crowded backfield.

"I've heard this is the largest depth at running back we've had here," Smith said. "We're going to take advantage of it. When one person can't go, we've got four more ready to jump in and take over."

Smith said he is eager to adapt no matter what form any experiment takes, even if it means lining up in three-back formations, in the wishbone or at slot receiver.

"Whenever our name is called to do something like that, we're all gonna do it," Smith said. "We're not going to pout about it. [The coaches] are just looking for ways to get all of us the ball."

While Garrison and Buie are tabbed as similar players because of their slight frames and shiftiness, Smith agrees with the comparisons being made between himself and Sims.

Who's bigger? "Uh, me, but it's about the same," Smith said. Who's faster? He smiled. "Sims."

"[Sims] can lower the shoulder as well," Smith said. "People expect it out of me because of the build I have, but he can also do it. He can also kick it into the next gear and go. That's what I can do, too."

The roles will be better defined as the Aug. 31 season opener against William & Mary approaches. One game, though, is circled on his calendar. It's Nov. 16, the day he returns home -- West Virginia against Kansas at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kan.

He'll be ready for that test.

In the past two seasons since Smith was ruled ineligible, the Jayhawks have won a total of three games.

"Now that I look back on it, I guess I could say I'm kind of glad things didn't work out there," Smith said. "I would have stayed, but things didn't work out. Now they're working out even better for me."

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Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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