By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — To call Tim Smith a natural athlete would be to understate the case. At various times during his four years at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Smith played basketball, baseball and football and competed in track and field.
His events included the high jump, and Smith once cleared 6-8. Not bad for a guy who was essentially self-taught.
Many high-jumpers favor the Fosbury Flop. Not Smith.
“No, I just ran and jumped over the bar,” he said with a sheepish grin. “That was about it. Kicked my legs.”
The sport at which he excelled most, of course, was football, and that’s what brought him to UVa. Smith, a 6-0, 175-pound wide receiver, is one of six true freshmen to have played for the Wahoos (0-3) this season, and he’s had the biggest impact of anyone in that group.
He played only one series in the Sept. 5 opener, versus William and Mary, but caught a 26-yard touchdown pass in UVa’s next game, against TCU. Then, in Virginia’s most recent game, he blew past his defender on a fly pattern and hauled in a 69-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jameel Sewell at Southern Mississippi.
That Smith has quickly become an integral part of the Cavaliers’ passing game doesn’t surprise Oscar Smith coach Richard Morgan.
“Not at all,” Morgan said Wednesday morning. “I’m surprised it took them to the second game to really get him on the field.”
Of the recruits who signed with Virginia in February, Smith was considered among the most likely to play this fall. Smith’s most obvious asset was his speed, ninth-year coach Al Groh said this week, and by playing as a true freshman “he would increase the speed at a position that significantly needed it.”
There’s track fast, though, and there’s football fast. Morgan doesn’t worry much about a player’s time in the 40-yard dash, or even the 100 meters.
“That stuff means nothing,” he said. “What means something is how fast you are on the field with pads on. There’s a whole lot of kids that can run down a track prety fast with nobody chasing them, but then on a football field they can’t do anything.
“Tim’s the exact opposite. Tim’s very fast, but on a football field, he becomes the fastest guy on the field when he plays, and that’s really what’s most important.
“The other thing is his conditioning. He’s still running just as hard in the fourth quarter as he did in the first quarter.”
Smith, who turns 19 in March, put up staggering numbers at Oscar Smith last year, despite sitting out the fourth quarter — and sometimes the third — of most games he played.
As a senior, he caught 73 passes for 1,681 yards and 24 touchdowns. Smith closed his high school career with a breathtaking performance, catching six passes for 224 yards and four TDs — a Group AAA playoff record — to help Oscar Smith obliterate Osbourn 54-24 in the state Division 6 championship game.
“It was real fun, because I didn’t expect them to play me the way they did,” Smith said, referring to the Eagles’ decision to put a single defender on him.
“When we played Oakton the week before, I was double-teamed, and I got to the point I was triple-teamed. So I was expecting something crazy, but [Osbourn] just came out there and manned up with a free safety.”
For all of his athletic feats, Smith comes across as anything but cocky off the field.
“He’s not like that,” Morgan said, “but like any great player, he believes that he is the best. Deep down inside, he’s like, ‘I’m the best, and I’m going to go out and dominate this game.’ He doesn’t tell you that, but internally he believes he’s the best, and that’s what it takes to be great.”
Smith’s teammates at Oscar Smith included Perry Jones, another true freshman who’s played for UVa this season. They’re products of an ultra-successful high school program. The Tigers went 10-2 in 2006, 12-1 in ’07, and 15-0 in ’08.
Which means that Smith and Jones, close friends who share a room in Dunnington dorm, have lost as many games in one month at UVa as they did in their final three seasons at Oscar Smith. Virginia opens ACC play Saturday afternoon against North Carolina (0-1, 3-1) in Chapel Hill.
“It’s pretty difficult,” Smith said, “but it’s just a steppingstone, because you can’t win all your life. Sometimes you have to lose, and you have to know how to bounce back and get back on that winning track.”
The William and Mary game marked the first time in some 21 months that a football team on which Smith played had not been victorious.
“It hit me kind of hard,” he said. “The last game” — a 37-34 loss to Southern Miss — “was even worse, because we actually played well, and it was a close game. But we’ve just got to keep fighting. We get better every week. We score more points every week.”
At Oscar Smith, Smith did more than catch passes. He started at safety and also returned punts and kickoffs. “Never got off the field,” he said.
Morgan would have been foolish not to play him. Smith set a school record with 10 returns (punts or kickoffs) for touchdowns during his career.
“He’s dominant at that, too,” Morgan said. “With kickoffs and punts, that’s four or five more opportunities a game to get the ball in his hands.”
Smith has yet to return a punt or a kickoff for the ‘Hoos, but he’s a candidate to do so. For now, Virginia fans will have to be content to watch him operate at wideout.
He enters the UNC game with four catches for 102 yards, and he gives UVa the deep threat it’s lacked for much of Groh’s tenure as coach.
So, we can expect a touchdown from No. 20 every week?
“I guess so,” Smith said with a smile. “It’s just a great feeling. People always expect something big from me, so I just try to go out there and make people happy and put points on the board for the team, and try to win.”