By Jeff Nations -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- It was just a week ago that Shenandoah University freshman running back Andrew Smith was joking around with his dad, tossing out fantastic scenarios for his first collegiate action.
"I said, 'Wouldn't it be funny if my first carry as college football player is a touchdown?,'" said Smith.
Turns out, the funny part of that conversation was that Smith had sold himself short. In last Saturday's 26-13 season-opening victory at Stevenson, Smith made that fantasy a reality by reaching the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown run on his very first collegiate carry. Hard to top, right? On his second collegiate carry, Smith scored his second touchdown. That one was a 1-yard run, and like the first came in the second quarter to once more give the Hornets the lead.
"You just dream about your first college game -- you're sitting in bed just thinking about it," Smith said. "Then it happened that way. That Sunday night, it hit me and I just started laughing because I was just thinking about this a couple days ago."
Perhaps Smith should upgrade his dreams, based on that astonishing success rate. The 5-foot-8, 180-pounder finished his first game for Shenandoah with 74 rushing yards on 11 attempts while serving as a short-yardage and change-of-pace back. Senior Carl Joseph toted the load against the Mustangs, with 29 carries for 178 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Smith is the first to acknowledge Joseph's leading role in the run game.
"After each of those touchdowns, I walked over to Carl and said, 'These are yours. These aren't mine. These are yours, and the offensive linemen.'"
Maybe Smith can afford to be generous -- he likely will visit the end zone a few more times as a collegian. That's been the plan, anyway, since Smith zeroed in on Shenandoah after a standout prep career at Battlefield High School. Smith was a three-year starter there, first on defense before shifting to wide receiver as a junior. He caught a 30-yard touchdown pass in Battlefield's 2010 Group AAA, Division 6 state championship victory.
As a senior, Smith battled through an injury-plagued season -- he sprained both ankles early in the year, yet still managed close to 1,000 rushing yards in about six games' worth of action. Those injuries scared off the Division I interest he'd been receiving from Old Dominion, Richmond and James Madison.
"They think you're injury-prone, so they try to stay away from people like that," Smith said.
Still, Smith basically had his pick of Old Dominion Athletic Conference programs. Smith liked Shenandoah, the program and the location, and after a visit to Bridgewater he determined to play for the Hornets. Staying close to home proved a major factor in that decision.
"I knew it wouldn't be so good for my mom," Smith said. "She actually beat breast cancer a couple months ago, so I knew that be hard and that would be trips. She wouldn't be able to see me as much. She might get to see me on the weekends, only for a little while."
Against Stevenson, his parents Tony and Lorraine Smith were in the stands to witness those first two touchdowns and all of his subsequent carries. His third, a 9-yard run late in the third quarter, even trumped the two earlier scores in Smith's mind.
"I told my dad after the game, 'That was probably my best run,'" Smith said. "Even though it doesn't look like it, that was the best run mentally for me because when I was running that, all I saw was just everybody just flowing that way.
"As soon as I made my cut, I just lowered my shoulders and the hole just opened up. I almost did break it -- I ended up tripping over one of my own offensive linemen."
For now, Smith knows that Joseph will continue as the primary back for the Hornets. He's still working every day in practice to earn the SU coaching staff's trust so that eventually, he may nearly split carries with Joseph. If so, they'll bring contrasting approaches to the backfield.
"We both have two different run styles," Joseph said. "I'm more of a speed back. To me, Andrew is more of a balanced back -- he has speed and power. He runs behind his pads and he's not scared to lower his shoulder at all."
Smith is still waiting to show what he can do in the open field.
"I'm kind of a one-cut guy," Smith said. "I just cut, cut, cut -- no jukes, really. I can make a guy miss by just planting my foot in the ground and then cutting the other way."
Hornets coach Paul Barnes, who's been limited all fall after suffering a back injury, is impressed by what he's seen of Smith -- mostly on film, so far.
"He's a very quiet guy, from what I understand -- I haven't been around him a lot, but he sure does play," Barnes said. "He can play, and that's what you like."