Eight years and 715 miles separate Troy Smith and Ohio State, but it’s still hard to believe the time elapsed since he last took a snap for the Buckeyes is pushing a decade.
But the memories of No. 10 dancing in and around the pocket have been slower to fade. After all, Smith’s senior season, save for its final chapter, was about as storybook as it gets.
The year was more or less a highlight reel for the dazzling quarterback on the way to capturing the Heisman Trophy and the hearts of Buckeye fans across the nation in 2006.
With Smith at the helm and under the direction of former coach Jim Tressel, Ohio State finished 12-1 after losing to Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators in the national championship. It was an abrupt and anticlimactic end to an otherwise dominant campaign. But Smith's legacy remained intact.
After being drafted in the fifth round by the Baltimore Ravens and subsequent stints with the San Francisco 49ers, Omaha Nighthawks and Pittsburgh Steelers, Smith is currently the starting quarterback for the Canadian Football League’s Montreal Alouettes.
That’s a long way from his hometown of Cleveland and longer way from Ohio Stadium, the place where Smith, who’ll be inducted into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame in September, forged his way into Buckeye lore.
In a recent interview with Eleven Warriors, Smith talks Meyer, Ohio State, senior quarterback Braxton Miller and playing in the CFL.
You’re a Heisman Trophy winner and had a lot of success during your senior season. What would your advice be to Braxton Miller, who’s looking to follow in your footsteps in more ways than one?
Troy Smith: Well, going into my senior season, I didn’t chase the Heisman, I didn’t chase any awards. There’s one thing that I did chase and I chased the admiration from my teammates, my staff and everybody that was within the football family at Ohio State. If I could give him any word of advice, it would be not to worry about any of the awards because the awards come with team accolades. Take care of your team, be the leader that you’re supposed to be as a quarterback and all those things will come necessary or when needed. That’s the advice that I would give him. That’s what I took into my senior season, incredible guys who I trusted and believed in and they were telling the truth and things came to fruition for me.
How often do you guys talk?
TS: I talk to Braxton pretty often. He’s an incredibly humble kid and he works harder than the quarterbacks that he’s going up against so I know that great things are ahead of him in his future. He’ll be the leader that we need him to be this year and I’m excited to watch Braxton Miller lead the Buckeyes.
At Big Ten Media Days Monday, Urban Meyer said it’s hard for an introverted quarterback to be a leader who can guide a team to championships. How important is it for Braxton Miller to be a vocal guy on the field? Is it important at all?
TS: My mother always told me that there was more than one way to Cleveland. In that essence, I’m trying to say is that there’s more than one way of getting it done and being effective. In a lot of cases, you don’t have to be the vocal guy when you are the physical guy. Obviously we’ve seen the guy, since he was a freshman, be an incredible percentage of the what the Buckeyes have going on. With that being said, he does all the talking with what he puts on the field. If he wants to keep this recipe going and we can continue winning, I don’t have a problem with how the way Braxton Miller goes about handling his business, treating people and becoming a man. If he’s going to continue being effective, have at it.
What do you think the biggest difference between Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel is?
TS: To tell you the truth, I haven’t been coached by Urban so I can’t tell you a difference there. But they’re winners. You’re looking for a difference, I think you should be just worried about the similarities and what they bring to the table. They bring a tradition, they bring a know-how with the way they want to go about playing football and preparing their athletes. And so far, it’s been two winners. Urban has won immediately, he has made and adopted a way of being a Buckeye around Columbus now that is very, very contagious just like Jim Tressel -- trickledown leadership of being a man and becoming a better person throughout life. Everyone of his guys has that instilled in them. I am a testament of it. So they are winners in both ways and have the ability to, so to speak, get people to buy into their system. I wouldn’t think and worry about the differences. Let’s just focus on the similarities.
When you look back at your time at Ohio State, what stands out to you the most?
The people. I’m in another country so there’s a glaring difference in Ohioans, Americans. But honestly, with the way the people treat one another up (in Montreal), there is no difference. There’s great people everywhere. I was blessed to be around a gang of incredible people at Ohio State and I am blessed to be around tremendous people in Montreal too. The people is what I remember the most but it’s an incredibly warm welcome here too.
What’s it been like playing in Montreal?
TS: It’s going pretty good. It’s going very well, getting a chance to be around the game that I love and rekindle the fire for this sport. It’s going tremendously well here in Montreal.
What been the biggest difference from playing at Ohio State and in the NFL compared to playing in the CFL?
TS: I would say in regards to football, there’s gang of different dimensions but I try to keep it as similar as possible in that honestly, in the Canadian football league, have to score more points than our opponent. You gotta throw to your guy right from the air, no turnovers. All those key things within football still exist here in the CFL, there’s just a couple different things that are glaring differences. The field is much longer and wider, there’s one additional player and there’s actually, coming off the jump, there’s an initial loss of downs.You work within the three-down perimeter as opposed to four. The play clock is sliced in half by 20 seconds so we only have 20 seconds to operate. There’s a gang of differences, but the main result, the main statistics that everyone pays attention to is wins and losses and if you play well or not. There’s still football here in Canada, but there are a couple of differences.
Do you want to play in the NFL again?
To tell you the truth man, I’m not thinking about that right now. I’m thinking about the CFL. I’m thinking the CFL season. I’m thinking about winning the Grey Cup. These are the most important things to me right now. The NFL is a tremendous opportunity and a blessing, but I’m definitely not thinking about that. The Montreal Alouettes are the most important thing to me.
You’re being inducted in the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony is in September, right?:
Yeah it is, but I won’t be able to come back because we have a football game, we play the Ottawa Redblacks, so I’ll actually be at work.
Do you think you’ll make it to any Ohio State games in Columbus next season?
TS: I don’t know man. I don’t think so. It’s not that far, its just I believe that if you are a starting quarterback you have to delve deep into what’s going on with the city, the organization and wholeheartedly be there. It’s a professional team up here so I have to be a professional.