In Twilight of his Career, Rod Smith Embraces Leadership

By Kyle Rowland on June 11, 2014 at 8:30a

In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture, Rod Smith’s answer would be zilch. With one year left at Ohio State, he ran into academic difficulties during spring practice, ceding any momentum he may have gained on presumptive starter, sophomore Ezekiel Elliott.

As a veteran, though, Smith understands the current makeup in the backfield. His carries will come. Aside from that, there are lessons to teach and careers to impact. Smith realizes it’s now or never for himself and a time to pass on knowledge to the next group of Buckeyes.

“I'm focused on trying to get this starting spot, but at the same time being a big brother to these young guys,” the senior tailback said in March. “For the first time, I'm the oldest guy in the room, so I've got to help out and keep them out of trouble.”

Trouble is something Smith hasn’t been a stranger to at Ohio State. It came on the field his freshman season in the form of fumbling. Late in that forgettable 2011 season, Smith even moved to linebacker. He then missed the team flight for the Gator Bowl and never showed up in Jacksonville.

When Urban Meyer was hired, he invited Smith’s father to Columbus. Together, the three of them discussed transfer options, with Meyer going as far to suggest a change of scenery. Smith saw a different path – the same one he was already on. Leaving Ohio State was not an option.

“The conversation in January [2012] was, ‘You’re probably not going to make it. It’s probably best you move on and play somewhere where you can play, because it’s obvious you’re not good enough to be here,'” Meyer said.

A few months later, Meyer said he loved Smith. The admiration grew when he became a special teams contributor. But Smith was suspended for the 2013 opener after violating team rules. Meyer called it Smith’s “last call” and “11th hour.”

“He needs to perform,” added Meyer.

Smith was largely irrelevant throughout the season, compiling 117 rushing yards in six games. He never appeared after Purdue on Nov. 2. Then the shortened spring cropped up, so Smith began his leadership push. If anyone knows about squandered talent, it is Smith. 

In the first game of his career, he rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown, spurring comparisons to Eddie George. Handling success and failure is an area that plagued Smith, which is why he opted to help young teammates.

“He was lower than most guys on this team.”

“What a great message for our entire team,” Meyer said. “He was lower than most guys on this team.”

Running backs coach Stan Drayton saw Smith’s newfound mentoring role on a daily basis. Drayton lauded Smith for standing up in front of teammates and not only admitting shortcomings, but also offering a strategy to circumvent that route in the future.

“To me, that’s leadership,” Drayton said. “He’s just standing in from of them, saying ‘Hey, these are the mistakes that I made and you’re not going to make them. You know why? Because I’m not going to let you.’ That’s the kind of special stuff that goes on in our room.”

Don’t think for a second Smith’s lost his competitive streak. A desire still burns deep to be a difference maker on offense. After all, that’s what he was recruited to do. The 6-foot-3, 238-pound running back is a blend of power, speed and athleticism.

Spring ball still never acted as a sanctuary for Smith’s game. There was a clear gap between Elliott and the challengers this year, though it didn’t mean Smith left hard work behind. Effort was never lacking, from winter workouts through spring practice.

“I definitely feel like I've put in my time,” he said. “I've been working hard trying to compete. I feel like I'm in the best shape I've ever been. This could be a good year for me.”

The Buckeyes would never be opposed to a deep backfield. Replacing Carlos Hyde’s 1,500 yards isn’t a one-man job. Identifying where Smith fits in falls on Drayton’s radar. The running backs coach discovered Smith’s height maybe isn’t always the asset many believed it to be.

Breaking tackles and securing the football are more difficult thanks to long arms. Drayton found that a more compact frame sometimes lends itself to being more suited for creating yardage in college, even though it seems like size translates into power.

“[Smith’s] starting to grow into his body and learn how to use it and create power angles for himself, and it’s starting to show in his execution,” Drayton said. “He’s really on the right track. I’m excited for Rod.”

Smith puts his perspective in easy terms, leaving it up to the coaches. He can only do so much, and he believes his latest audition served as a reminder of what he can be.

“I have never not wanted to be on the field,” Smith said. “All I can do is keep playing my game, keep listening to [coaches] and get better every day.”


Comments Show All Comments

Jeremypreemo81's picture

I like Eze a lot, I really do but I've been on the Smith bandwagon for a while.  I really hope he's got his act together and is ready to be the player that I know he can be.  He has the potential to be a dominant RB in the B1G.  Best of luck to you Rod

+7 HS
osugreg04's picture

I think you sum up the majority viewpoint well.  Rod can do some things and we've seen glimpses, but he needs to dominate this year.  If he does, I think it can lift the team to an amazing level.

+3 HS
Killer nuts's picture

For his sake I hope he finds a role as a valuable contributor on this team on the field this fall

+1 HS
buckeyedexter's picture

I was excited to see Rod Smith for a couple years, this year I'm not.  It could have been his year to be the starter, but instead he couldn't keep his grades up.  I would rather see Dunn and Ball get the carries instead, they are more deserving.

klfeck's picture

Drayton and Meyer will decide who is more "deserving".



Proud parent of a Senior at The Ohio State University

+4 HS
swainpm's picture

Upvotes to you KLFECK. Smith can still be the best on the team, and if he isn't at least he decided to stick around and try for the good guys. Many others would have taken Meyer's suggestion to leave town. Instead Smith has manned up and taken the challenge to compete.

hspbuy1's picture

I hope he does well & becomes a leader! Unleash the talent Mr Smith! The time is now!


+1 HS
steveoz49's picture

This could be a great duo... Thunder and Lightening

+2 HS
JDunc686's picture

Yeah! Eze will lighten up the field like a regular Bob Ross!  Sorry, couldn't resist.


+3 HS
gumtape's picture

I keep seeing Willie Parker with this guy. If his speed and measurables stack up, he can be a solid NFL player, without having taken a pounding in College.

High and tight boo boo

+8 HS
BroJim's picture

That's a good point, he is low miles. I like Smith I hope he gets his shot but not at the cost of injury. I think he has a lot of value. Does anyone know how he is as a blocker?

I season my simple food with hunger

+1 HS
Hovenaut's picture

I liked Rod Smith from the get, thought he reminded me (physically) of Eddie George coming out of hs. He's had some good (and not so good) moments on the field at OSU.

Hopeful to still see him contribute with the ball this season, but very happy to read he's very much a team player no matter what.

+6 HS

I think when we saw his size, we immediately thought of an Eddie redux, but Smith's running style looks different from Eddie in that he kind of hunches forward on his runs, while Eddie ran more vertical like Adrian Peterson.  To Stan Drayton's point, he's learning to leverage his size for power angles, but I wonder if Smith ever consulted our former Heisman stud for advice on being a big framed RB... Eddie's junior year wasn't as great as his senior, but he also didn't have an Eze-caliber RB fighting him for the position either. 

One thing is for sure, each of Eddie's legs were almost 3x's the size of my torso when we were in school together, so it may not be fair to compare the two.

Anyhoo, I look forward to seeing Rod contribute in big ways with every opportunity.  

"I don't apologize for anything.  When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes

+1 HS
Hovenaut's picture

Yep - I just recall hearing when Smith was coming out of Fort Wayne - his size was comparable to EG.

EG was the man, didn't hurt him having some fellas serving up some serious pancakes leading the way.

I think RS finds a way to contribute.

(Full respect to the name - I too made it through the 90's...ugh)

+2 HS
BucksfanXC's picture

I'm really hoping to see Rod break out finally. He has the talent hopefully he figure it out and gets a shot. I love having a stable of horses for Braxton back there.

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

+4 HS
Ajake15's picture

As much as I want to see Eazy E be one of the best running backs ever at OSU, I would love to see Rod steal the spotlight. I know he is a beast and has paid his dues.

Buster Tillman was underrated

+3 HS
BuckeyeJ's picture

I am on the Eze wagon, but after reading this article makes me root for Mr Smith!!! This is what leadership is about! And he didn't transfer out he wanted to be apart of the team NO matter what!!! 

+5 HS
GVerrilli92's picture

I remember seeing this run in person and thinking that he was better than Hyde already.

I got a gray kitty, white kitty, tabby too, and a little orange guy who puts snakes in my shoes. Got mad MC skills, that leave ya struck, and I roll with my kitties and I'm hard as f*ck.

+8 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

Man - I sure hope it all clicks for Rod this year.  I too, was excited as hell when he committed, thought all along he was the next coming of Eddie George.  I hope he has his ball security issues solved, because I thought that was his only on-field problem.  This young man has the size, body, and speed to be an NFL back.  His time to prove he can play is now.

Best of luck, Rod!  I am rooting for you!!

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

+3 HS
southbay's picture

Thanks I always enjoy seeing this play again!  Go Rod...

otrain2416's picture

Unless one of these guys pulls a Hyde and rises head over heels above the others, I would like to see a little more rotation at the RB position to keep guys fresh. 

We were born to love Ohio State and hate that team up north.

+2 HS
Knarcisi's picture

Nice story.  Something tells me that if Urban truly feels this way, and Rod keeps it in the right direction, he'll find plenty of carries for him this year.

And good for Rod Smith.  He'll carry this with him well into life.  As any of us know that have played a competitive sport, it's sometimes not about the player you are, but about the person you become.

+2 HS
chirobuck's picture

Zeke, Rod, Dunn and Ball.....thats a lot of talent, I know Hyde was a beast and will be missed but I find it hard to believe that our play from the RB position will drop very much if at all.....oh yeah.....Curtis Samuel  


^ best post ever ^

+2 HS
Crumb's picture

I hope Rod and Zeke each have 1,000 yards. That would mean the offense is amazing. It's your chance Rod, take it!!!

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

+2 HS
Mean Mr Mustard's picture

I took a lot of heat for saying this a month ago but I would like to see Rod Smith used as a fullback in the king or queen formation more often--a TB/FB/TE like Byars in the NFL.  I think Meyer wants to stick to the 21 formation, but it would be nice if they could mix it up.  For the people who said I played too much Xbox:


+1 HS
Toilrt Paper's picture

Rod Smith = This year's Kenny G. A good thing.

buckeyedude's picture

I was a HUGE El Guapo fan when it was uncool to be a fan of El Guapo. Things worked out fairly well for him.

Having said that, I almost feel sorry for Rod Smith. In my fantasy world, everybody succeeds. But that isn't real life. Anyway, I really hope Rod has a kick ass season!



+1 HS
The Buck Guy's picture

When Smith was made a Buckeye, I was soooo stoked!  He could have been our next Beanie Wells.  But then, after the fumble problems, he showed that he just lacked the ability to be a student-athlete.  He still fails to take being a student seriously.  Sorry, but that should be the first priority for every Buckeye athlete.  Sorry, but this article was a mistake because he cannot be considered a leader for the Buckeyes.  Yes, he is an example of what happens if a player fails to dedicate himself; but his team mates see that without needing him to say it.  He says that he "wants" to be on the field, but there is a big difference between "want" and "desire".  And although he did "put in his time", it is more about what he didn't do during that time.  So sad he had to throw away such a fantastic opportunity.  It is time for the young talent to fill the shoes he couldn't (or wouldn't) lace up.

~ The Buck Guy
Go Bucks!!!!

-1 HS
zebiraross's picture

Guy has all the physical tools one could ask for. Unfortunately he just hasn't been able to put it all together.
I know it's just speculation on my part, but he just doesn't seem to have the competative spirt it takes to be a feature back at Ohio State. Hope he proves us wrong.


+1 HS
johnny11's picture

Been pulling for him since he came here. He's just got to bring all that potential and put it together.

Shangheyed's picture

Indeed 240 lb back in the 4th Qtr will be hard to tackle...would be a great story to tell, and is impressive he is willing to tell it today to frosh and sophmores doing what it takes to help the team today and tomorrow.  Really like that and so would Woody... indeed paying a little bit forward. 

We need to replace a powerful runner, it was a pleasure watching that last year with Hyde we will need someone who can put the smack down on people not just tip the outsides or shake and bake.   Hydes effort sometimes to get that extra yrd was awesome to see, and that has nothing to do with physical ability, his heart changed and became something special his Sr. Year.

BOTTOM LINE!  Nice group of RB as strong as any position even DL.  There are indeed players ready to step up and looking forward to see who does.  No reason why Smith is not in the mix if he has what it takes to make the field I am sure coaches will get him the ball.