Smith: Ordinary name, extraordinary player

MORGANTOWN — Geno Smith has been a record-setting quarterback and passer at West Virginia. He has started for three years and will play in his fourth consective bowl game when the Mountaineers visit New York and meet Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl.

As a freshman, Smith was inserted into the Gator Bowl when fifth-year senior Jarrett Brown was injured in the first half against Florida State and retiring coach Bobby Bowden.

And then the next season, the long-limbed sophomore with the whip-like arm was the team’s starter from the opening game.

That was a situation Smith had been familiar with at Miramar High School in south Florida. Playing for former Mountaineer Damon Cogdell, Smith was a four-year starter — cutting his teeth against the fierce competition in the 6A ranks of the Miami and Broward County areas.

Geno Smith has set scads of one-season and career passing records.

Geno Smith has set scads of one-season and career passing records.

 

Growing up in south Florida, Smith made his early impressions on people with his academic and creative acumen. At age 3, he sometimes regaled his maternal grandmother with his fictional stories and artistic talent. When he began in the first grade of the public school system, he was tested and placed in a gifted and advanced placement curriculum that created time every day for writing and drawing.

His grandmother and mother decided against him skipping a grade, but weren’t against him performing in “The Nutcracker” and entering an oratorical contest. As a fifth grader, Smith did well enough in chess tournaments and had his cartoons placed in the elementary school’s newspaper.

In a magnet middle school, his routine included two hours a day of art instruction. His grandmother softly informed him of any mistakes in either his course work or artistic endeavors . . . and Smith was on his way toward becoming a perfectionist.

In the ninth grade, Smith entered Miramar High School. He was a quarterback and would be joined early enough by wide receiver Stedman Bailey, another talented Mountaineer on today’s West Virginia teams.

In his junior year at Miramar, Smith threw for 2,200 yards and 25 touchdowns while being named second-team, all-state quarterback in the large-school ranks.

The next year, he helped Miramar to the state semifinals while completing 205 of 338 passes for 30 touchdowns and 3,089 yards. He ran for more than 300 yards as an adjunct to his throwing ability.

Recruited by a half-dozen big-name schools, Smith was influenced toward WVU by Cogdell and he came north when Bill Stewart was still new to the head coaching position in Morgantown.

Smith completed his freshman season in the role of relief pitcher for Jarrett Brown in the Gator Bowl loss to the Seminoles.

He completed 32-of-49 passes that season.

With Brown gone, Smith sparkled as a sophomore with 24 touchdown passes, 2,763 passing yards, and 241 completions out of 372 throws.

He was twice voted the Big East Offensive Player of the Week.

Coach Stewart was removed near the beginning of Smith’s junior season. Dana Holgorsen, the acclaimed offensive craftsman from the Big 12 conference, was hired by Oliver Luck to pilot what became a Mountaineer air show revolving around Smith’s passing (and running) and a bevy of capable wide receivers.

Even in a loss to No. 2 LSU, Smith completed a school record 38 passes in 65 attempts for 463 yards.

That game had been a nationally televised game on a Thursday night. From that night on until now, the football-watching public knew who Smith was and what he could do in a football game.

Marc Bulger’s passing records fell like leaves in a mid-October, Morgantown wind storm.

Bulger’s single-season marks were eclipsed in a close win over Pitt when Smith stuck the Panthers and he finished the season with 291 completions and 3,741 yards.

Smith saved his best for last.

In a 70-33 blitzing of Clemson in the Orange Bowl, he had six touchdown passes, 42 points, another TD by run, and 401 passing yards. He broke former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady’s Orange Bowl records.

After the 13-game season, Smith had amassed 4,379 passing yards, the highest total in Big East conference history.

In the just-completed regular season, he completed 72 percent of his 490 passes and had 40 scoring passes and only six interceptions. The passing yardage figure was 4,004.

West Virginia’s first-ever Big 12 game was against Baylor. Smith literally filled the Morgantown air with touchdowns, yardage, and completions. There were eight touchdown passes, 656 passing yards, and 45 completions and only six incomplete passes.

He had saved the best for last. In a 59-10 demolition of Charlie Weis’s Kansas Jayhawks, Smith completed a national record-tying 23-of-24 passes, a 96 percent completion percentage.

He had 21 straight completions and was removed late in the game before he could complete one more throw and establish his own mark.

When the Mountaineers come on to the natural turf at Yankee Stadium, they’ll see longtime rival Syracuse down at the other end.

Smith will be seeking a perfect game.

Just like he did when he was a student in the gifted program in elementary school. And then doing much the same as a four-year starter for Coach Damon Cogdell at Miramar High.

This won’t be an oratorical contest. But, then Smith has always done more with his right arm and his legs than he has with his words and cartoons.

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