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Harding's Rod Smith set to sign with Buckeyes

Running back is expected to make big contribution early.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 - 10:33 am

What can't Harding's Rod Smith do? He is 6-3 and 220 pounds and is a state-caliber sprinter. He hasn't had time to lift weights on a year-round basis, yet bench presses 300 pounds and squats nearly 500 pounds. He is a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, track) in an era of specialization.

Oh, yes. He's set to sign to play football today with Ohio State.

“I'm just glad that it is finally here,” Smith said of the opportunity to sign his National Letter of Intent today. “I'm officially going to be a part of Ohio State University.”

Smith made a verbal commitment to the Buckeyes during summer 2009.

Not only is Smith ecstatic with his selection, his high school coach is as well.

“He's going to one of the top five programs in the country,” Harding coach Sherwood Haydock said. “Running backs are a big deal there. We feel he's made a wise choice and Ohio State has made a wise choice.”

Smith rushed for more than 3,500 yards his last two seasons, including nearly 1,900 as a senior. He ran, he scored, he caught passes. He didn't throw many passes (that won't change in college) or block much (that will change), but he did tackle and intercept passes as a free safety.

“He doesn't run like he's 6-3,” Haydock said. “He has the spin moves and acceleration. He doesn't take long strides unless he needs to. He keeps his feet close to ground where he can cut. His vision is really great. He has great balance.”

How good is Smith? Randy Taylor, the director of the National Collegiate Scouting Association and a former coach at Illinois, UNLV and UCLA, ranks Smith as the nation's No. 1 running back and No. 8 player overall.

Barry Every, the football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, a national Internet recruiting service, has said that Smith, “Already has the size to put a hurting on college defenses, but is he ready for the pounding he will take at the next level. He should remind most Big Ten fans of a young Eddie George, and have a similar impact.”

Allen Trieu, the recruiting director for Scout.com, another national Internet recruiting service, has said Smith, “Has outstanding size and has rare athleticism for a kid with his frame. He's a long strider who can break longer runs. He does run high and will need to add some weight, particularly in the lower body, which will help him as a between-the-tackles runner.”

MaxPreps, a high school recruiting publication, listed Smith as most likely to “play a pivotal role for a national championship team as a true freshman.”

Smith, who will enroll in summer school in Columbus in mid-June, is one of the marquee recruits in Ohio State's top-25 class.

“He has the power when he needs it,” Haydock said. “He can be athletic when he needs to be. He has track speed. He was the leadoff man in the (400 meter relay team) that was state runner-up last year. You put that all together and it makes for a heck of a running back combination.”

Smith likely will get bigger and faster in the Buckeyes' strength and conditioning program.

“He has to grow a lot as a weightlifter,” Haydock said. “He's been a three-sport athlete his whole life and he hasn't had the time others have had in the weight room.

“One of the things Ohio State coaches are excited about is once Rod gets on campus and eats three great meals a day and trains for football 12 months a year, he'll be a really big running back. He could end up 230 to 240.”

Ohio State first saw Smith as a freshman when Haydock took some of his players to the Buckeyes' 7-on-7 camp. The coaches were impressed then and stayed that way, Haydock said. While Smith's choice came down to Michigan State and Ohio State (Miami of Florida and Tennessee were among the programs offering scholarships), the Buckeyes were his No. 1 choice all along.

“We limited the recruiting early on because he always wanted Ohio State,” Haydock said. “Michigan State gave a good spiel. He thought hard about them.”

According to Smith, it was that devotion by the Buckeyes staff that endeared the school to him.

“The whole coaching staff and (those) on the academic side seemed like they really cared about me,” Smith said.

As far as playing time, Ohio State returns its top three rushers, but one of them is quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

“He's different from their other running backs,” Haydock said. “Those guys are under 6-foot and under 210 or 200 pounds and have great speed. He has the great speed along with that size. He has tremendous athletic ability. I can see him and Pryor in the backfield. That would be deadly.”

Even if Smith's carries are limited next season (he has to prove himself as a blocker), he's expected to get action on special teams.

“One of things Ohio State coaches said was he'll get on field early, if not as a running back then on special teams,” Haydock said. “We joked around and told (running backs coach) Dick Tressel that he'd better sit on Rod or the safety coach or the outside linebacker coach might take him.”

Does that mean Smith, who also played free safety at Harding, might be better suited to defense?

“His best position is as a running back,” Haydock said. “He runs as well as anybody as I've seen, and he's big and fast. There aren't many backs like that.”

Smith concurred with his coach that carrying the ball is his preference.

“I've been recruited as a running back and I want to play running back,” Smith said. “If other spots like safety open up, I'd be more than happy to do that. But I'd really like to be a running back.”