Orwin Smith has put up some impressive numbers in his first three years at Georgia Tech. But now Georgia Tech fans want to know if this is the year that he becomes the school's next legendary running back.
Smith, a senior A-back from Central High in Phenix City, has rushed for 1,157 yards in his career. He's accumulated 3,041 all-purpose yards and could become only the fourth player in school history to reach the 4,000-yard mark. Can you say Eddie Lee Ivery? Robert Lavette, anyone?
"He will probably be highlighted a little more than we have in the past," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said at ACC Media Days last month.
An injured toe wrecked the end of Smith's junior season. He suffered a turf toe in the loss to Virginia Tech, didn't play against Duke and had only one carry in the Sun Bowl before leaving the game. After briefly considering his option to turn pro, Smith wisely decided to return for his senior season. He had foot surgery in January, missed all the spring drills and spent time resting and rehabbing the injury. And while there are some residual effects from the injury that may linger, Smith declared himself ready for the season.
"I feel like I'm good to go, 100 percent," he said. "I don't feel any pain."
Smith has already been included on a couple of preseason awards lists. He's under consideration for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's best back, and the Paul Hornung Award, given to the nation's most versatile player.
"I'm just working hard," Smith said. "I'm not really worried about what happened last year. If I keep that work ethic going and work hard, good things are going to happen."
Smith has been a productive players since he broke into the lineup in 2010, when he rushed for 516 yards, averaging 9.7 yards per carry, and scored four touchdowns. He also caught 12 passes for 195 yards, a 16.3 yard average.
He established himself as one of the program's elite players in 2011, when he rushed for 615 yards, averaging 10.1 yards per carry, and scored 11 touchdowns. Smith's average was the highest in FBS for players with a minimum of 600 yards gained. He also caught 13 passes for 306 yards, a 23.5 yard average and one touchdown.
Smith accomplished everything in his junior season with only one 100-yard game, that when he gained 157 yards on five carries against Kansas. In that game he had a school-record 95-yard touchdown run on Tech's first play of the game and a 63-yard touchdown reception and wound up becoming the first player in school history to rush for 100 yards and have 100 yards in receptions in the same game.
But Smith hasn't been the type of workhorse back that will carry the ball 25 times a game. The most attempts he's had in one game is 12. Last year he didn't have a single game with double-digit carries, maxing out at nine. David Sims, the B-Back, had more than twice as many carries, but only 84 more yards.
Smith is also valuable as a receiver; his 13 catches ranked third on the team last year and went for 306 yards, a 23.5-yard average. And he's also expected to be more effective on kickoff returns, where he averaged only 19.6 yards on 18 returns.
Chances are good that Smith's productivity will mirror the effectiveness of the offensive line. That could be a good thing, since Tech returns a deep, experienced group of blockers that includes All-American guard Omoregie Uzzi.
"I think we'll be an even better team this year," Smith said. "And this year we're going to finish it off."