By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
MORGANTOWN — Unless there is a miracle in the final 24 hours of West Virginia University’s spring football season, Geno Smith will not put a broken foot onto Mountaineer Field on Friday night, at least not while there is any action going on.
This, as you all will come to find out in the fall, is your loss because this calm, cool gunslinger out of Florida is the real deal, even playing on one foot.
If things continue to go in the direction they are headed, the face of West Virginia will have completely changed by next season. No longer will teams be able to crowd the line of scrimmage, zeroing in on the speed of Steve Slaton or the elusiveness of Patrick White or Noel Devine.
It is now, to play on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” one if by land, six points if by air, for WVU is wearing the 10-gallon hat and toting the six-shooter of a gunslinger.
True, Noel Devine remains on the premises and primed in his final season to run for more than the 1,400 yards he put together last year. And true, Ryan Clarke is now a full-fledged part of the offense, ready to clear a path for Devine or pick up the tough inside yardage that WVU will need so badly.
But this is going to be Smith’s team, his face being the face of West Virginia football, 2010.
His arm is strong and true, his eyes all-seeing as fleet receivers scurry through the secondary. His timing is nearly perfect and his delivery flawless.
There are questions, yes.
That off-season broken foot limited his participation this spring to non-contract drills without either an offensive or defensive line, for fear the broken bone in his foot would be further injured. Considering that there are many pressing questions about the offensive line’s ability to protect him, that piece of the puzzle must wait until the leaves begin to turn in the fall.
But when you strictly analyze the stuff of which Geno Smith is made, you see that it is all of the highest quality.
This, of course, could have been a lost spring for Smith, but he let them pad up the foot, was willing to take the chance to go through coach Bill Stewart’s delayed spring practice, do all he could do. He did it in part for himself, for he knew he had to get as much experience as possible in the offense and work on his timing with his receivers.
But there was a deeper reason, one that tells you something about Smith himself.
“The guys wanted to see how I responded to the injury,” he said. “I responded well.”
Indeed, there was no limping around, no missing any drills to get treatment. He did what he was allowed to do, all of it, and never once said he overthrew a pass because of his footing or never once begged off any thing that was asked of him.
If he wasn’t the offensive leader coming into the spring, he comes out of it with the team’s reins in his hands.
The truth is he wanted to play in the spring game, even though it is of no real meaning in football terms – which is not meant to say that it doesn’t have an even higher meaning in donating its proceeds to WVU Children’s Hospital.
But they said no and he accepted it without a blink.
“I’m trying to do what’s best for the team,” Smith said.
In fact, Smith admitted that if this were Marshall week, if it were a regular-season game … “I’d play, definitely,” he said.
Despite his limited participation, he believes this has been a spring of accomplishment for him.
“I think I developed a lot,” he said.
This is true in a physical sense, of course, but it is also true in another way.
“I’m now a more cerebral player than I was in high school,” he said.
And, when you think of it, the thing that really separates the great quarterbacks from the good ones is not their physical assets, for both possess those, but the intellectual level at which they play the game.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.