By Cam Huffman
For the Daily Telegraph
West Virginia University quarterback Geno Smith will have time to celebrate this April. Most draft experts project the Mountaineer senior to be a first round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft, one of the first two quarterbacks picked. Some have even tabbed the former Miramar (Fla.) High School star as a possible overall No. 1 selection.
But Smith isn’t thinking that far ahead. Draft combines, video studies and interviews this spring will determine all of that. Right now, he just wants one more win in front of the home fans at Mountaineer Field.
WVU (6-5, 3-5 Big 12) will host Kansas (1-10, 0-8 Big 12) Saturday at 2:30 p.m. The game will be televised on ROOT Sports, and Smith — who, on Wednesday, was named one of 10 finalist for The Manning Award, presented each year to college football’s top quarterback — is hoping to put on one final show.
“My competitiveness just comes from my drive to be the best at whatever I do,” said Smith, who holds just about every career passing record at WVU. “I hate to lose. I think that’s just part of being a competitor.
“It’s just the nature of the game. If you don’t expect good things to happen, then I don’t think they’ll happen for you, especially if you hate to lose. A lot of people just accept losing. It’s hard to accept it, and I never will.”
Smith hasn’t experienced much losing at WVU. He’s 25-12 as a starter with the Mountaineers and has an Orange Bowl championship to his credit.
After a 5-0 start to his senior season — one that had Smith as the clear frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy — the last couple of months haven’t gone as planned. WVU is just 1-5 since that perfect start, which culminated with a win at Texas, and Smith has fallen off the list of top Heisman contenders.
If he could change the results of a few of those losses, he certainly would, but, other than that, Smith said he’d keep his WVU career much the same.
“It’s an experience that you have to go through,” he said. “I think all colleges are. Coach (Damon) Cogdell, my high school coach, was an avid Mountaineer fan and former player. He would always take us up here for camps. It was just fun to be here. I was probably in 10th grade when I first came here. I’ve always known about West Virginia and always kept up with them, because they’ve been so successful. They would always play those Thursday and Friday night games that I’ve always enjoyed watching.
“Being here has helped me realize just how important it is to the community, to everyone around here, to the players, to the staff; from the cooks in the back to the people who help us with academics. It’s just an important program to everyone, and everyone needs to come together for it to work. That’s a blessing and a good thing about the program here.”
Smith said he’ll leave Morgantown a different person than the one he was when he arrived.
“As a football player, it’s probably that I’m not skinny anymore — at least not as skinny as I once was,” he said of the biggest differences. “Mentally, as a professional and as a person, I’ve grown with years and age, and I think that’s something we all do. We all mature. I’ve been able to do it in front of the Mountaineer media, fans, coaches and staff. It’s been good for me. It’s life-changing. It has helped me grow into a better, older and wiser man, and I’m thankful for it.”
Another senior that will run onto — and all around — Mountaineer Field for the final time on Saturday is wide receiver Tavon Austin.
Like Smith, Austin will leave behind a huge mark on the record books. He’s caught more passes than an receiver in WVU history.
He’ll also leave an an All-American, at least according to one organization.
The American Football Coaches Association announced its All-America Team Wednesday, and Austin made the 25-man team as an all-purpose athlete.