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Geno Smith drops in on his way to the NFL

Lawrence Pierce
Elijah Harper of Alkol brought his infant daughter Abigail (3 months) and son Owen (2) with him to meet former WVU quarterback Geno Smith Saturday at Collectibles, Inc., in Cross Lanes.

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.

But those numbers came out of a shotgun spread passing attack at WVU. The Jets use a West Coast offense where the signal-caller works under center and must have good footwork for the timing-based routes.

"Going into training camp I've got a great opportunity and feel very good about it,'' said Smith. "I'm going to go in there with the right mentality, the same mentality I had throughout my entire career, which is to work hard, to better myself and help my teammates get better and we'll see what happens at the end of preseason.''

Smith also touched on other subjects Saturday:

  • On WVU's upcoming season: "I expect a great season. I know they have a lot of unproven players. The one thing I know is they're working hard. The defense is going to get a lot better. We had a lot of young guys last year and they got some really good experience. I can tell you firsthand, coming back that second year that the game's a lot slower.
  • "And those guys are very talented. I expect some things from them. I don't know who's going to be the starting quarterback, but with Coach [Dana] Holgorsen leading them I know they'll do well. I expect some guys to step up from a receiver standpoint. We've got a lot of young talent. Guys want to be the next Tavon [Austin] or Steadman Bailey.''

  • On former WVU coach Bill Stewart, who recruited Smith: "God bless his heart, he was a wonderful man. I can remember him sitting in my living room when I was in high school and he just blew away my mother. She loved him.
  • "He taught me a lot early on about being a man. Not just playing football, but being a citizen, being hard working and having good morals. When he passed it hurt me. It hurt all of us. It not only impacted the football team, but the community. He loved the old gold and blue. He bled it. He let you know it. That's what he always talked about.''

  • On the Mountaineers' quarterback battle between junior Paul Millard, Smith's backup last year, freshman Ford Childress and Florida State transfer Clint Trickett: "Paul, he's got that gunslinger mentality. He's got a big arm. He's not afraid to put it in tight windows. He's going to trust his receivers and his arm. Ford's a big, pocket, traditional, drop-back quarterback. His dad played in the NFL so he knows what it takes to win.
  • "I look forward to the battle between those two guys as well as Trickett. I watched [Trickett] at Florida State fill in for [starting quarterback] E.J. [Manuel] and he did a tremendous job. He just blew me away with some of the passes he made. You look at his size and you don't see much, but when he gets on the field he has a huge arm. That battle is going to be interesting, but I know whoever emerges as the starter is going to be well deserved.''

  • On similarities between Jets and WVU fans: "Everywhere you go they're not afraid to let you know we're rooting for you. I saw a number of fans [Saturday] at the airport coming here and they're all fist-pumping me, just giving me daps and saying good things. They're very passionate and we all know West Virginia fans are passionate and sometimes over the top with it, but that's what we want.''
  • Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at tatkinson@wvgazette.com                       or 304-348-4811.

     


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