When Devin Smith first tried the sport of track growing up, he did it with a simple purpose – to improve his skills on the gridiron.
That led to a love affair with the sport that is continuing now as Smith pulls double duty, training each morning with the football squad during its offseason workouts before heading over to French Field House to work with the OSU track and field squad.
“When I first did the sport, I did it just to get faster for football,” Smith told BuckeyeSports.com. “Then once you start traveling and going to different places and doing different events, I started to fall in love with it. Track is a sport like no other. I just fell in love with it so much and wanted to continue it at the college level.”
Luckily enough, he has an ally on his side in new head coach Urban Meyer, who has made it clear that he likes football players who compete in anything and everything.
That’s one reason why Meyer was never against seeing his Florida gridders play other sports during the offseason, a move that paid off when running back Jeff Demps won three individual track national titles in 2010 and helped the Gators team to a national crown.
That could be a more common occurrence now at Ohio State. Former OSU players Chimdi Chekwa and Laamar Thomas helped the Buckeyes to the Big Ten outdoor title in the 4x100-meter relay in 2009, but by and large, there weren’t a whole lot of football players who double-dipped under former head coach Jim Tressel.
Now with the blessing of Meyer and strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti, track and field head coach Robert Gary sees a new opportunity blooming.
“We basically have access to any kid who wants to come out and is healthy to do so and is academically sound, and we’re really excited about that,” Gary said. “The great thing about football players is they come out and it’s just a straight expectation level (to succeed).”
Smith has fit in the same way. The Ohio Division I 100-meter and long jump champion as a senior at Massillon Washington, Smith has competed already at two events – the Penn State National Invitational during the last weekend in January and the Meyo Invitational at Notre Dame last weekend.
His best finish thus far was in the high jump – an event in which he took eighth last year at the state prep meet – at Penn State. Smith took third place by clearing 6 feet, 10¾ inches, within two inches of the Stark County high school record he set a year ago.
“You take a track athlete who had only one practice since the last state meet and he’d have a hard time performing, but Devin only knows trying to compete,” Gary said. “He ended up jumping 6-10¾ and surprised everybody except for probably him. That’s just what he expects. To be honest, he was pretty (upset) that two people at Penn State beat him, and he was two inches off his PR.
“Those football players have a great mentality,” Gary added with a bit of a smile.
Smith has heard the competitive mantra from Meyer and feels he’s honing his skills by taking to the track.
“Competing against everyone, it’s kind of for yourself, and you want to win for yourself, but you always want to win for your team,” Smith said. “Going out there and high jumping and long jumping and contributing to the track team is what I wanted to do, and I’m very happy that I’m doing it.”
Smith said he expects to be competitive against anyone he goes up against, but he’ll have to improve with help from the OSU coaches to get to an All-Big Ten level. Smith’s 7-0½ high jump mark that set the Stark County record a year ago is still shy of last year’s conference-winning indoor mark of 7-5 of Indiana’s Derek Drouin.
Smith – who plans to add in the 100 meters in the spring – is also doing the long jump right now, but his state title mark of 24-7 last spring would fall short of last year’s Big Ten winner, a leap of 25-9¼ by OSU teammate Michael Hartfield. Smith jumped 22-6¼ at Penn State, but he’s confident he’ll be a contender by season’s end.
“I feel I’m getting good work in with football and track,” he said. “I think it’s going to elevate my competitiveness and get me to where I want to be.’
As Smith alluded to, he is working with both programs at the moment. His day begins early with the football team’s 5 a.m. workouts and said the regimen devised by Marotti has come as advertised.
“It’s intense,” he said. “It is hard, but you learn to fight through it and just get it done. They do get in your ear and yell like crazy, but I think it’s going to help all of us. With him in the weight program, I think it’s going to work wonders for us.”
Smith’s track workouts are in the afternoon, making for a long day, but the freshman who tied for the OSU lead with 14 catches on the season and caught the winning score vs. Wisconsin isn’t complaining.
“It’s a long day, but being a three-sport athlete in high school and always being busy, always having something back to back, I’m kind of used to it,” he said.
The idea to stay with track was hatched in high school when he first fell in love with the sport, and Smith has achieved his goal by sticking with it.
“I told myself I think I want to do something like this in college,” he said. “I talked to my dad about it and he was all for it and said that was something I should do. Then I talked to my mom and she said that I was crazy at first. Then she said that if it’s something I love, go for it, and that’s how I felt and I just went on with it.”