West Virginia QB Smith not fazed by Heisman hype
Geno Smith's face barely changes expression when the questions, bound to come, fire in from reporters about the hype surrounding his name, which has been mentioned early and often on Heisman Trophy candidate lists.
The smallest hint of a smile? None.
A tiny glint in his eye? Nope.
It's business as usual for Smith, West Virginia's walking perfectionist who seems to be on every Heisman list as a contender or favorite for college football's most prestigious award.
"You guys know me by now, it obviously doesn't affect me at all," said Smith. "I'm honored to be in that conversation, but I think it's more about the exposure of my teammates and this program here. None of that stuff is really going to weigh on me at all because my goal has never been to win a Heisman."
It's true, said quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital. He swore the humility that flows from Smith when microphones and cameras surround him is legitimate.
"He never brings it up," said Spavital. "I told him before 'You know you're gonna have a lot of hype, so live up to it.' I don't think it even pressures him."
Sports Illustrated, ESPN.com, and Yahoo! Sports all included Smith among the top contenders for the award. So have dozens of smaller publications. No West Virginia player has won the Heisman.
Smith threw for 4,385 yards last year, 31 touchdowns, and is expected to be better this year.
He's patient in the pocket, which could be his runaway strength.
In the second year of Dana Holgorsen's offense "Year 2" as it's commonly referred to, things make more sense, quarterbacks have more understanding, and the mental burden is lifted, said members of the coaching staff.
They said it was obvious in Year 2 with Case Keenum at Houston and Brandon Weeden at Oklahoma State. Both have moved on to the NFL.
"There [were] times last year when Geno had no idea what Dana wanted," said Spavital. "There's a lot of growing pains for the quarterback for the first year, and it's kind of like Dana gets them to a place where they're thinking exactly like him."
Smith himself called last year's record-breaking season a "struggle," and at times it was apparent.
Leading up to Smith's six-touchdown output in the Orange Bowl, West Virginia barely managed to win a few games down the stretch. For example, in the finale at South Florida the offense didn't score a touchdown until 5:09 remained in the fourth quarter.
"Last year was a struggle for me in the sense that I didn't know everything," he said. "I'm a perfectionist. I wanted to be at my best. I knew in order to be at my best it took a lot of reps and time. It took an offseason to see all the things I did wrong."
His teammate, receiver Tavon Austin, also has been mentioned on preseason lists of Heisman candidates.
"I mean, my friends and family will call me on the phone and let me know what they heard on SportsCenter and all that stuff. But I don't really pay attention to it," said Austin. "I'm happy my name got mentioned. I am just thankful, I'm blessed and will come in with the right attitude and, hopefully, my name will get called at the end of the year."
Austin, one of the most dynamic playmakers to don a West Virginia uniform, had 101 receptions last year for 1,186 yards, and eight touchdowns.
Both could have special seasons.
"I can't even lie. I'm excited to see what we can do on the field. We have high expectations," said Smith.
First Published August 31, 2012 12:00 am