COLUMBUS — Ohio State reserve tailback Rod Smith found his way onto the playing field last Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham and scored on a touchdown run from one-yard out.
It seemed like just an ordinary goal-line plunge from the layman's eye. But, when you discover just how long of a road Smith has traveled in just eight short months, that three feet to pay dirt seemed like a trip to the moon.
You see, when new Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer took control of the program in January, he didn't believe Smith was good enough to be part of the Buckeyes' roster and offered to give the sophomore from Fort Wayne (Ind.) his release, so he could go elsewhere to continue his college ball.
"The conversation in January is probably you're 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 of Smith. "Real honest conversation."
Meyer had a sit down meeting with Smith's father in his office, something the Buckeye coach said was instrumental in the tailback remaining with the team.
"Had a talk with his father, great guy," Meyer said. "Came down and sat in my office, said this is exactly where your son is. The option is there and we'll sign the paper and move on.
"He wanted to stay."
Meyer stated that during the off-season camps, Smith didn't exactly appear like a guy who "wanted to stay." There was no indication that Smith — who is built like an NFL running back at 6-foot-3, 228 pounds — wanted to seriously compete for playing time in the Buckeyes' crowded backfield.
However, in the past few weeks, Smith flipped the switch and has demonstrated the abilities and work ethic which made him one of the most highly recruited players in the nation coming out of high school in 2010.
And his new coach couldn't be happier for the sudden turnaround.
"He didn't do great as the spring went on," Meyer said of Smith. "Moved on, did not have a great summer. Then something clicked these last few weeks. I mean, he's on a mission right now. He's a good guy. I love Rod Smith. I love guys that turn it around."
Smith said with junior Carlos Hyde being out due to injury, he knew that he had an opportunity to get on the field, and stated that if he were to cash in on his rare chance, he needed to change the way he prepares.
"I had to show them I could do it in practice," Smith said. "My number was called and they gave me an opportunity. I think I did a good job."
Meyer agreed that Smith's performance against the Blazers was promising and the touchdown run was well-deserved. He thinks Smith's transformation could be a valuable example for his team going forward.
"Now that's one game," Meyer said. "But he earned that right to carry the football at Ohio State and score that touchdown. That wasn't a mop up. We had a very set package — one back, two tight ends. And he was the back to go in that game.
"So what a great message for our entire team, because he was lower than most guys on this team. To see him rebound, his grades are doing well, he's got a good look about him.
"It's called maturity. And it's happening."
Of course, with the possible return of Hyde this week or next, many are wondering if Smith will still have a role in the Buckeyes' backfield?
"Absolutely. Absolutely," Meyer said of Smith's chances. "If he continues as is ...
"He's in the plans for several more years, too."