Life is rough in Pahokee, Florida, a place more swamp than land where the kids chase rabbits for something to do. Ask Vincent Smith:
"Life is a struggle," said former Pahokee running back Vincent Smith, now playing at Michigan. "It's a learning experience because you have to be able to adapt quickly or you can easily get into trouble. Playing sports helped put me on the outside of some of the circumstances and struggles in the town."
But not all of them. Smith's teammate and friend Norman Griffith was shot in the head on September 27th. Pahokee went out and lost its annual rivalry game against Glades Central, then ran off a series of victories that ended in a third consecutive state championship. Smith was the star of the game with 22 carries for 137 yards. Somewhere along the way, he committed to a Michigan program that had seen fit to offer him in February.
When he committed, I wasn't that enthused about a 5'6" low-three star who hadn't been the star of his offense as a junior. By signing day, though, Smith's zippy, productive senior year (2,119 yards on 248 carries with 20 touchdowns) had produced a steady climb up the Rivals rankings. Though he never escaped the three-star ghetto, he went from around the #65 RB to around the #30 RB. Then a couple folk who are employed to observe these kids emailed me saying that if Smith was three inches taller he'd be king of the universe. One did this apropos of nothing. And in retrospect, Smith's other offers—Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Minnesota—came from a weird melange of teams that, though different in philosophy, know ground-pounding when they see it.
(On the height, make no mistake: though he'll be listed at 5'9" or whatever on the roster, the height above is much closer to accurate. Varsity Blue attended the spring press conference and reported back thusly:
Smith was at the press conference, and he is tiny. I’ve talked with Odoms face to face, and I’m pretty sure Odoms has 2-3″ on Smith. He’s listed 5′6″; I’m pretty sure there are rides at Cedar Point he can’t get on, but he can apparently run the ball really well.
Anyway, by signing day I had come around on Smith, repeatedly going back to little darting Blue Devil with dreads when pinged for a sleeper in the class. (Here's the CIL archive.)
Not to be That Guy, but, uh:
Smith enrolled early and was the non-Forcier buzz of spring practice. Despite having three or four viable options in front of him at running back, he's not going to redshirt:
Rodriguez said Thursday he does not foresee red-shirting Smith, a 5-foot-6, 158-pound back from Pahokee, Fla.
"He's really come along," Rodriguez said. "He's still confused sometimes as all the freshmen would be, but he showed some flashes in the last practice, and he's probably going to play some this year as a true freshman."
"He's a pretty quick learner on the field, and he's got some natural ability."
Though his slight frame, general youth, and Brandon Minor should keep him from serious time as a freshman, if you were to poll the vast universe of people with an opinion of Michigan's 2010 running back situation, he would probably be at least neck-and-neck with Michael Shaw.
So he's passed the first major hurdle by arriving on campus and seeming like a viable future option. Plenty of recruits higher-ranked than he don't manage that (think Cobrani Mixon). So the following scouting reports are possibly a little pessimistic. Anyway…
ESPN says Smith lacks size "on paper"—which uh what about real life too—and says he runs "low to the ground," as if he has a choice. They also note his ability to pick through the traffic inside:
Very slippery to wrap up as an in-line runner and utilizes smaller body structure to his advantage. Picks and slides through the initial traffic with great shiftiness and vision. Shows good suddenness hitting the cutback lane and small run creases. Runs low to the ground with great balance and body control; rarely gives defenders a clean shot to hit.
So that's nice, but the evaluation comes back to his size and declares him a "good prospect" and one who will be a "nice change of pace back" in the spread.
I thought the second most impressive back was Pahokee's Vincent Smith [Ronnie Wingo was #1, FWIW]. Playing on the championship team, Smith was dynamite all day with his speed and explosiveness.
"That running back really hurt us in the final game," said South Florida Express coach Brett Goetz. "He's a great player and really hurt us coming out of the backfield. We didn't do a good enough job against him."
Goetz and his team wasn't the only one. Smith made plays all afternoon and showed why he's considered one of the most explosive players in the state this year.
That event also featured Ohio State commit Jamaal Berry, FWIW. Since the spread can be looked at as an attempt to turn 11-on-11 into 7-on-7, it's not surprising that it fits Smith like a glove:
And then there's his build, which Thompson simply called "that spread-offense body.''
Small but powerful, Smith projects as the prototypical player for the offensive system that has grown from obscurity into a flat-out trend. … ''He can do a lot,'' Pahokee quarterback-to-be Nu'Keese Richardson said, ``as far as catching it out [of] the backfield, making guys miss and stuff like that.''
Added coach Blaze Thompson: "When he goes to camps, he'll go from wide receiver to running back, wide receiver to running back. "He runs great routes, and he's powerful. … If somebody puts him in the spread offense, he'll be successful.''
"He hit the scene confident and motivated," Pahokee coach Blaze Thompson said. "His maturity outside the football field has been measurable. He's just a great kid. Everyone just looks at him and says, 'I hope he succeeds. I hope he's successful' and everything's coming together for him."
And, hell, since he's a tailback I bothered to watch his highlight video and saw a one-cut-and-go player who picked a hole and zipped through it, capable of making the tiny lateral adjustments that get players past linebackers on the second level. He's not going to break many tackles in college but has the vision and quickness to burst into creases Brandon Minor perceives as defenders to maim. You can make a similar assessment while listening to the dulcet tones of Pat Summerall:
That's junior film, man.
Why Darren Sproles? He's five foot six! Virtually all 5'6" guys in college football are basically the same. Sproles is probably optimistic, since Smith would have to have spectacular numbers and deadly return skills to indicate the sort of game-breaking talent Sproles was.
Guru Reliability: Low. Huge spread, and Scout and ESPN didn't move him an inch after his senior season. They also aren't accounting for Smith's fit in Michigan's offense, and obviously didn't take his spring into account. General Excitement Level: Moderate-plus. Though he's sort of proven himself already, there's a big difference between Michigan's second string and Big Ten first stringers. There's still a chance his size will be a significant hindrance. Projection: Sees maybe 30 carries as one of Minor and Brown's caddies, then finds himself in a serious war to replace them next year.
McGuffie had the misfortune to be playing when our offensive line was still green, then got injured when our offensive line was gelling later in the year. Despite the tendency to say he sucks because he transferred, I maintain he would have been a good asset in the offense later on. I doubt he would have been a team-carrying back, but he still would have added a lot.
That being said, Vincent Smith has every chance to become better, and even if the whole RB thing doesn't play out, we've still got room for special teams players who don't grease their hands before each play...
Fair enough. He just never stood out to me as someone that was doing a great job of preparing for hits. I would agree that the huge hits where he was concussed weren't because he thought, "Hey, I can run this linebacker over."
With Smith I noticed right away that he contorts so that the impact doesn't affect him as much, whether that means he stays on his feet, or just avoids taking the whole force of the hit.
McGuffie definitely ran high. He got rocked a handful of times in situations where other backs wouldn't have. There is a difference between being ballsy and running stupid. The latter is where McGuffie was, IMO.