CROSS LANES, W.Va. -- Geno Smith will have his hands full later this week as his first NFL training camp opens, but the former West Virginia University quarterback took some time out of his busy schedule Saturday for Mountaineer fans.
The New York Jets rookie quarterback made an appearance at Collectibles, Etc. in Cross Lanes, signing autographs and meeting the WVU faithful, including several hundred who lined up well before the event's noon start time.
"I hold West Virginia dear to my heart,'' said Smith. "To be back here and see some of the fans, to have them come out and support me in my signing is beautiful. It's heartwarming and I appreciate it.
"I felt to come back and do this was necessary. Not only from a standpoint of connecting with my West Virginia fans, but to kind of just give back and allow them to see me right before I go into the long stretch of the season.''
Smith was a second-round selection of the Jets in April's NFL Draft, the 39th selection overall. He was projected as a top-10 pick, but fell to the second round.
Smith created a stir during and after the draft. He had an agonizing two-day wait in the draft's green room and was so frustrated that he said he was going home after the opening round but returned for the second day. Then shortly after the draft, Smith fired his agents and announced in May that he signed with Roc Nation, hip-hop star Jay Z's sports management company.
Smith said all that's behind him now as he focuses on the next phase of his career.
"Right now it's time to get to work,'' said the 6-foot-3, 221-pound Smith, who has yet to sign with the Jets with training camp looming Friday.
"I have a goal in mind and I'm really going to go after that. I want to be the best. It's going to take time and effort and that's what I'm willing to put in. Once I step on the field it's about business. I'm really appreciative to have made it to this level, but there's a lot more for me out there and I'm going to try and strive for it.''
Smith will get a chance to impress the Jets brass, who announced after the draft that the starting quarterback position that has been anchored by Mark Sanchez the past four seasons is wide open going into training camp.
"I'm prepared,'' Smith said. "I'm just getting better daily. I've improved so much from the time the [Pinstripe Bowl] ended [in December] to now. I continue to improve steadily.
"I feel like I have a great shot. I did a pretty good job overall of just adapting to the [Jets'] system and playbook and felt very comfortable with it by the end of OTAs [outside team activities] and mandatory [mini-] camp [in May and June].''
Smith passed for 11,662 yards with 98 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in 39 career starts for the Mountaineers. He also completed 67.4 percent of his passes.