By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Rodrell Smith arrived at Bluefield College having run for 2,332 yards and 25 touchdowns in two seasons at Nelson County High School near Arrington, Va.
Sounds like running back material.
“We had been testing the first day and we looked at him and said, ‘We need to get this kid on the field’, but we had a lot of good running backs,” Bluefield College head coach Mike Gravier said. “We weren’t sure how he was going to get into the rotation.”
There are other positions on the football field, and Gravier found one for Smith.
“We decided to move him to receiver,” Gravier said. “That is a huge learning curve, not only does he have to adjust to college football, but adjusting at a new position and obviously he has done well.”
Very well. Smith is a freshman receiver who is ranked among the top 18 pass-catchers nationally in the NAIA Division I ranks.
“I wanted to play running back, but Coach asked me to try wide receiver and I was willing so that’s where I need to be,” Smith said. “He asked me ‘Can you catch’ and I said ‘Yes sir’.
“He said we are going to try you and out and I was like ‘okay’.”
Call that a good decision. The speedy 6-foot-1, 190-pound Smith has caught 28 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns for the Rams. He has snared nine more passes for 90 more yards than any receiver on the team.
“He is our leading scorer, obviously he is our leading receiver, he is getting better,” Gravier said. “(Receivers) coach (Kirk) Broussard kind of called him out early in the season about his blocking and he has gotten better and better and better.
“He has probably been our most consistent receiver overall, blocking and receiving.”
In addition to football, Smith ran track at Nelson County, running the 100, 200 and 400 meters, and was part of a state championship squad last June in the 4x400 relay team.
Football, though, was his true calling.
“Just the contact, you can’t get in trouble for hitting somebody hard and I just love the game,” Smith said. “Every day I work harder to get better and go out and play.”
He had a few schools seeking his services on the football field, but Bluefield proved to be the winning team.
“I had a couple of other schools, but I narrowed it down and decided to come to this school,” Smith said. “It was a first year program, I thought I could do great things for the team.”
So far so good. Bluefield is 0-6 in its first season of football since 1941, but Smith sees good things ahead for the Rams.
“It is our first year, but once everyone comes together and does their job and does all their finishing I think we can pull it together,” Smith said. “I see good things coming for us and getting better with steady progression.”
Smith has progressed quickly since arriving at Bluefield in early August, taking over a position he had rarely played in high school.
“You have to work hard every day, you have to go out and get better,” Smith said. “You can’t take any time off, you have got to run your routes precise, very sharp just to get away from the DBs.”
That 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash helps.
“It is a real big jump, more speed, more size,” he said, “but it is something you have to adjust to at any level in college.”
Smith started in style, catching seven passes for 78 yards and two touchdowns in the season-opening loss to Pikeville.
“I wasn’t expecting that big of a start, but it was a great game for me,” said Smith, who will never forget the first touchdown of his career. “It felt great, it was a dream come true. It was a great feeling.”
Smith also caught seven passes in last week’s loss at Union. He’s had at least two receptions in each game this season, and is currently 18th in America in receptions (28) and 37th in receptions per game (4.700).
He has quickly learned the basics of being a receiver.
“You have got to catch it, bring it in and get what you can get out there,” Smith said. “I think (the most important thing is to) secure the ball, you don’t want to give up any fumbles in the wide-open field and lose the ball for a bad turnover.”
Smith has developed a comfort level with quarterback Greg Hampton, who has thrown for 780 yards, eight scores and seven interceptions.
“He finds me open every time,” Smith said. “When I get open routes, he delivers the ball well.”
Gravier continues to be impressed with the progress made by Smith and the willingness to make the move to a new position.
“A lot of kids think, ‘I am a star running back, look what I did in high school, why would you want to move me’, but he was very accommodating, more than willing to do it and again has worked at it,” Gravier said. “Some of those kids would do that and mope around and not really put the time in to get better at it.
“He can be definitely a weapon for us down the road, he is going to get stronger and he is going to get faster and learn the game more.”
He’s not just in town to play football. Smith is majoring in sports management with aspirations as an athletic trainer. He’s focused on both in Bluefield.
“Academically, just getting up and making sure you go to class and get your work done,” said Smith, who likes to fish, mostly for bass, when the opportunity arrives. “Sports-wise, coming to practice, working hard for the time you are out here and keeping up with your grades.”
Smith arrived in Bluefield knowing one person on the team, tight end Matt Hollandsworth, who ironically scored the Rams’ first touchdown this season with a reception against Pikeville. He is surrounded by talented receivers, including Michael Nesmith (17-184, td) and others who are trying to provide firepower to the Bluefield attack.
“We work every day,” Smith said. “We come out and Coach works us hard and makes sure we know our routes and know what we have to do, knowing what our plays are and knowing we have to get our blocks and making sure our man doesn’t make the tackle...
“You have to go out and work together, you have to play as a team, everybody has to come together as one and not play individually.”
Bluefield returns to Mitchell Stadium on Saturday for the Rams’ first game under the lights when the University of Virginia’s College of Wise arrives for a 6 p.m. kickoff.
Smith can’t wait.
“I am real well known for playing under the lights so hopefully it will be a good impact for us,” he said.
There is something else he can’t wait for. Hopefully the wait ends on Saturday.
“Get that first win, and then keeping building off of that one,” Smith said.
—Contact Brian Woodson