West Virginia Football: Smith takes charge as quarterback

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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- Jarrett Brown had to wait until he was a redshirt senior for the West Virginia Mountaineers' football squad to truly become "his" team.

Geno Smith will take command as a sophomore -- and he seems more than ready.

Brown graduated after last season and more than likely will be selected in the upcoming NFL draft. He sat behind former West Virginia great Pat White, funneling all his being into the one season when he knew he would be the go-to guy.

For Smith, it was a process that began Tuesday, when West Virginia opened spring football practice with Brown gone and Smith taking over on the heels of a season in which he was the primary backup as a true freshman, playing in five games including the entire second half of the Gator Bowl.

For West Virginia coach Bill Stewart, Smith's youth will be no issue -- or excuse.

"I have seen a lot of sophomores in the past play very well," Stewart said. "It is time for Geno to step up and make his mark, right now. Sophomore, junior, senior, it doesn't matter, whoever steps up and takes those snaps is our guy and has to be ready."

Getting Smith ready will be a bit of a challenge, although he should be fine Sept. 4, when the Mountaineers host Coastal Carolina in the opener.

Smith, while he was zipping the ball around the field Tuesday and working with the first team in most drills, will not see much live action this spring because he is recovering from a broken foot bone he sustained in conditioning drills in January.

Asked how the injury will impact Smith's participation in the 15 spring workouts, Stewart said, "He's in the game. But he won't be hit."

But make no mistake, this is their guy.

"I think the guys really accept me as a leader," Smith said.

Seems there's not much "I think" about it.

"Geno is just a natural leader," senior running back Noel Devine said. "His love for the game is very strong. He knows football. That's something that is inside of him that God blessed him with. A big thing within a team is trust, as long as you trust everyone within a team, you know everyone is going to do their job, and we know Geno is going to do his job."

Part of that job is dealing with the bad, not just the good.

Smith understands as much, knows it is the starting quarterback's responsibility.

"I encourage the guys a lot," Smith said. "I'm not one of the guys who screams at the other guys or gets in their face. I am more of a person who encourages others, so I think they respect that. I set an example in the weight room and in the classroom and on the field."

Notes -- Stewart refused to talk about football-related matters until he first, unsolicited, addressed the mine tragedy in Montcoal, W.Va. "This is just the game of football, but the game of life is a whole lot more important, I know that personally," he said. "As a 9-year-old, I lost my uncle over in Tunnelton, W.Va. in his coal mine." ... Two highly touted freshmen receivers, Deon Long and Logan Heastie, were not at practice Tuesday. Though Stewart never mentioned them by name, he addressed the issue. "This is for all young people -- and I've got one at home," Stewart said. "It takes a man now, or a young lady, to play Division I. It's not for everybody. Division I football is not for everybody. Sometimes, 6 a.m. workouts shy people away. Sometimes weight room workouts shy people away. I only care about the ones who are here. ... We'll play with who we've got." It is widely believed Long and Heastie will transfer at the end of this semester.

Colin Dunlap: cdunlap@post-gazette.com .


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