By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Bluefield College football coach Ordell Walker chose not to time his players in the 40-yard dash to avoid any kind of injuries.
Not that he needs it with Rodrell Smith.
“I know Rodrell is fast,” Walker said. “I don’t need the clock to tell me that.”
Smith demonstrated his speed during Bluefield’s 38-7 loss to Kentucky Christian last Saturday, getting behind the coverage after a short pass and then dashing most of 78 yards for a touchdown.
“It comes back from track speed, I just turn it on when I have got the open space and I try not to get caught down,” said Smith, who participated in the 100, 200 and 400 meters, and was part of a state championship squad as a senior in the 4x400 relay for Nelson County High School in Lovingston, Va. “It is real fun, just knowing someone is trailing you, they are trying their best, but they are not going to catch you.”
Smith, who has timed in the past at 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash, was one of a few returnees from last year’s squad that finished 0-11. That record wasn’t his fault. Smith proved to be the Rams’ top offensive weapon, catching 44 passes for 470 yards and five touchdowns.
“I was pretty pleased,” said the 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore. “I didn’t think I was going to do as good as I did at wide receiver since it was my first year, but I came out with good stats and I hope to keep doing that good.”
A standout prep running back, Smith ran for 2,332 yards and 25 touchdowns in two seasons for the Governors. He arrived at Bluefield expecting to remain there, but then-head coach Mike Gravier wanted to get Smith on the field. Good idea.
A year later and Smith is playing like a veteran of the position, having spent much of the summer preparing for this season.
“Now I know more about how the DBs are going to play me and how to get off of jams now from what Coach is teaching us and I just keep using that every week,” Smith said. “I went home during the summer and I ran routes with the quarterback back home, like the routes we run out here.”
A majority of the players who were Rams last season departed, but Smith never had a doubt about returning to Bluefield, even after Gravier was replaced in a surprise move by Walker.
“I didn’t have no doubts, I figured I would come back and keep showing my support to the team,” Smith said. “Whether we lost or not, I wasn’t going to let that be a factor in me staying away from the field.
“I was one of the top receivers, one of the people with the most purpose points. I thought I would come back out and contribute to the team again.”
There was some apprehension when Smith heard that Walker favored an offense that is traditionally based on running the football. No wonder he was anxious to get back to Bluefield to learn more.
“At first it was a little scary, but he said we are going to throw the ball,” Smith said. “I was pretty excited to come out and see how they are coached, how they wanted us to play, what kind of offense we were going to run.
“At first I was like, ‘the triple option, wow’ I might not get the ball, but coach is throwing plays in there and getting us the ball.”
That wasn’t a tough decision for Walker. Heading into Saturday’s game at Cumberland, Tenn., Smith had snagged seven passes for 132 yards.
“We have got some pretty good receivers, they all can catch and they can run pretty good,” Walker said. “Rodrell, that guy, Kentucky Christian was fast and he stretched that play out. Just get him the ball in space and let him get going, he is probably as fast as anyone in this league.”
The 20-year-old Smith has added the role of leader to his duties, tutoring such talented receivers as Richard Johnson and David Gianesin on the field.
“I help out the younger wide receivers and make sure they know what the coaches are telling them to do and making sure they are not getting frustrated out there just because we need them to play,” Smith said. “That is what we need, we need all the factors on the team.
“They are all tall receivers so we can just throw the ball up and they will go get it and that is what I love about it.”
Who throws the ball has also been an issue for the Rams, who have used three quarterbacks in trying to find the right fit for the offense.
“Every quarterback throws different, but you just have to work out here and you just have to get with all the quarterbacks and just see how they throw and work routes with them,” he said.
It was Cory Mabry who threw the short pass to Smith in the loss to Kentucky Christian. Smith caught the ball and then outran everyone to the end zone 78 yards away.
He finished with three receptions for a career-high 103 yards against the Knights.
“I made sure I made a good stick like coach was telling me, three steps and a stick and the DB happened to fall and I had a wide open play to make,” Walker said. “It felt great being under the lights and just going out and performing.”
Walker is also working hard toward his degree in sports management with aspirations as an athletic trainer. Trying to balance football and academics can be a challenge for any student.
“The coaches help us out, they are making sure we are managing our time and when you have time off from classes you can do your homework when you are not at practice and make sure you keep up with your academics,” Smith said. “It is hard, but you have to come out here to practice and just know what you have to do when you get to the game and just keep performing the way you perform.”
What Smith hasn’t tasted yet is victory at Bluefield. He feels like it is coming, but has learned to adjust to the philosophy of the new coaching staff, which doesn’t want the Rams to judge their performance exclusively on the final score.
“All the coaches are positive, they keep you up, make sure you stay active, make sure you are hustling, make sure you give your best effort every play,” Smith said. “It is not about the scoreboard, it is just about having fun and make sure you do what you have got to do, don’t worry about the scoreboard, just keep competing to the fourth quarter.
“Maybe we will be up and then you celebrate after.”
Smith remembered to remain position after the Rams fell behind 21-0 in the opening three minutes against Kentucky Christian.
“It was rough at first, but then I got to thinking about what Coach said,” he said. “Don’t worry about the scoreboard, just go out and play your game.”