By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
In a surprise announcement, West Virginia University starting quarterback Geno Smith pronounced himself ready to take part in spring drills at full speed right from the start despite having undergone surgery to fix a broken foot for the second straight year.
The importance of this cannot be overstated, as it comes at a time when new offensive coordinator/head coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen will be installing his high-powered offense, and it is crucial the man running it gets as much practice with it as possible.
What’s more, Holgorsen has no experienced backup, two new freshmen who enrolled early in January being the backups. They are Brian Athey out of Eden Prairie, Minn., and Paul Millard out of Flower Mount, Texas.
For the second straight year, Smith underwent surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot. In an effort to get him back so he could get as much work in as possible, spring drills were pushed back as late as they could, beginning on March 28 and ending with the annual Blue and Gold scrimmage on the night of April 29.
Last year Smith was able to take part only in skeleton drills throughout the spring, but it wasn’t that crucial because the Mountaineers were running the Jeff Mullen offense with which he was familiar.
Smith announced at a pre-spring media luncheon — held at this early date because of spring break and the possibility of a long run by the basketball team in the NCAA Tournament — he expected to take part in all spring activities.
“I will be participating in the spring and from what I’m told I’m full go when spring comes,” Smith said. “As far as the doctor tells me, my foot is pretty much healed.”
It had always been hoped that Smith would be ready to go at the late starting date.
“The entire healing process and the surgery was for spring so I could get back on time,” he said.
With the installation of a new offense, Smith and Holgorsen both felt it was vital that he get his broken foot wet in the spring.
“It’s extremely important for me to be out there with those guys at all times, just being a leader,” Smith said. “I’m the one guy with the most experience out of all the quarterbacks. We have two young guys coming in and I feel it’s my job to show those guys the ropes as much as I can.”
Smith has dedicated himself during the off-season to learn as much as he can about the offense he is expected to run this year.
“I watched a lot of film on the Oklahoma State offense,” he said, Oklahoma State being where WVU hired Holgorsen from. “I pretty much learned it all. The offense runs at a great pace. You have to know what you’re doing. You have to be in the right spot. You can’t just be in there on the fringe.
“We know some of the plays. It’s not a complicated offense. We are just trying to get the timing down with the receivers. We’re doing 7 on 7 with the receivers.”
Smith doesn’t see any major changes in his job.
“It’s pretty much similar,” he said. “The quarterback is a facilitator. I’m not the guy running around trying to make plays. I’m just getting the ball in the hands of the playmakers.”
A year ago he was pretty good at that for a first-year quarterback. Smith completed 64.8 percent of 372 passes last year for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. In this offense he figures to throw the ball a whole lot more often.
Considering his injury a year ago, it was miraculous that he was able to play every game and do what he did.
When he first injured the foot, he wasn’t sure what it was, although he had had a similar injury the previous year.
“It’s football,” he said. “You are going to have injuries, and you’ve got to play through pain. We have some incredible trainers who kept me up to par. We kept it pretty much under wraps, because I’m sure teams would have come after me if they knew how bad it was.”
Considering it has happened twice, is Smith worried about reinjuring the foot this season?
“It’s not something to worry about. You have to play through pain, like I said. If I had two broken feet I’d be out there.”
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.