BOGACZYK: Smith’s Patience Rewarded … and Herd Prospers
The Word on the Herd-Oct. 19, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Wide receivers coach Mike Furrey recruits South Carolina, the Charlotte, N.C., area and Columbus, Ohio, for Marshall football.
So, his wife, Koren, must recruit the suburbs of Ohio’s capital city, right? That’s how the Herd landed its 2015 place-kicker, Nick Smith from Plain City, Ohio.
“Yeah, a little bit … a little bit,” a grinning Smith said after a recent Marshall practice.
OK, let Smith tell the story.
“Basically, there’s a large greenspace in town where I had a lot of room to kick,” said Smith, a redshirt sophomore. “So, when I was practicing in middle school – when I started doing this – I’d go out every day and kick, and a woman that lived two houses down was Coach Furrey’s wife’s sister – Alicia Maynard.
“Koren’s father, Barry Blackstone, used to coach (from 1992-2010) at our school and he’d watch me kick, and he found out a lot about me and would talk to Mike about it. And once Coach Furrey was hired here (March 2013) and the conversation came up about new kickers, he knew me from back home and brought my name up.”
Smith, who grabbed a preferred walk-on bid from the Herd, kicked 52- and 51-yard field goals for Jonathan Alder High and scored 100 points in his junior season (2011). He was the All-Ohio Division III first team kicker in 2011, but when he arrived at Marshall, there was plenty of competition.
Smith redshirted in 2013 as incumbent Justin Haig kept the field goal and PAT roles and Smith’s fellow newcomer, Amoreto Curraj, won the kickoff job. In August 2014 camp, Smith battled Haig day-after-day, but the senior won out … and eventually became a school career record-holder for kick scoring and was the MVP of the 2014 Conference USA title game, with four field goals. Smith got to kick his first collegiate PAT late in a win at FIU.
Fast forward a year. The Ohioan had been given a scholarship starting with the spring semester, but this time he found himself vying with Curraj – the native of Albania had sat out 2014 with back and groin injuries – for Haig’s old job … and entering the final week of August camp, Curraj had the edge.
“When I started to realize that’s what the situation was, it kind of came down to crunch time,” the personable Smith said. “And anyone who plays a sport like this – at a very competitive level – you have to have that instinct to basically come through in the clutch. So, I just kind of hunkered down, said I’m not going to lose this job, and went out and performed.”
Smith has been one of the Herd’s major highlights on special teams. With Marshall (6-1, 3-0 Conference USA) entertaining North Texas on Saturday for the Herd’s 114th Homecoming, he is 8-for-8 on field goals and 27-of-27 on PATs. He’s extended the Herd’s consecutive field goal string to 15 and lengthened the PAT run to 130 in a row.
Smith, a digital forensics major with a 3.40 GPA, said his 2014 frustration after nearly winning the job aided him in winning the role in the few days before an opening win over Purdue.
“It was definitely tough, definitely tough to stand on the sidelines and watch when I knew I had the chance to go out there and play,” he said. “And yeah, I think part of how I performed this year in camp was kind of to come back and be here.
“I wasn’t going to let it happen again. I was tired of watching. I wanted to play. It definitely helped me. It was a learning experience and I had another year to perfect what I do and I feel like it’s showing on the field now.”
Smith said he considered a transfer as he remained a walk-on and backup as well.
“I was hoping sooner,” he said of going on scholarship for the final semester of his sophomore (academic) year. “The recruiting pitch was, ‘You come in and we’ll scholarship you – if you do really well – we’ll do it in that first spring (of 2014).’ And when that didn’t happen, it was kind of a little bit of a letdown. But then you just keep coming out and doing what you have to do. It was definitely worth the wait; it’s great to be on scholarship … There were thoughts (of leaving), obviously, but I talked to my family a lot about it and they told me to stick with it – and it paid off.”
Smith’s impressive start as the Herd placement specialist – in tandem with the senior duo of snapper Matt Cincotta and holder Tyler Williams – is rooted in more than his repetitive work ethic, a trademark of all who succeed at his specialty.
“I do agree it’s almost all mental,” Smith said when asked about the kicker’s generic mindset. “As long as I’ve been doing this – about 10 years now – I’ve perfected and know the techniques I need to be successful. But at that point, it just comes down to whether your mind believes that you can do it.
“So, I don’t know if I do anything specifically different (from other kickers) but one thing I do – on PATs I really don’t think much – but on field goals, I’ll jog out and you know, you start to get that jittery feeling? Then usually I’ll just say something to calm myself down.
“A lot of coaches used to tell me to visualize the ball going through (the uprights) before I line up. At that point, sometimes I just use a confidence word. Some people say ‘money’ or ‘money in the bank.’ And a lot of that stuff helps … helps you get into your little zone. Sometimes for me, it will be, ‘You got this.’ It gets me into that state of mind where I’m the only one out there and I just do what I always do.”
Smith’s matter-of-fact mien fits with his choice of study in digital forensics, a program that produces graduates who are in greater demand in the law enforcement and intelligence communities. The major also has a state-of-the-art computer lab in the new Arthur Weisberg Family Applied Engineering complex that opened this semester.
“Basically, you work with law enforcement agencies and police stations and a lot of private corporations are hiring people with digital forensics backgrounds,” Smith said. “When you’re working with law enforcement, you’re investigating crimes on digital devices like computers, laptops and cellphones. A lot of times it has to do with child porn, which can be a difficult subject.
“So, if someone had something on their hard drive and tried to delete it, you can go in and image the hard drive and try to retrieve all of the data and appear in court as an expert witness and testify against the alleged criminal.”
As Smith gets deeper into his course of study, he’s looking forward to gaining more practical experience in the field.
“Since I’m just starting my junior year, I haven’t gotten to the higher-level stuff with the major yet,” he said, “but I’ve had some work with video surveillance and imaging hard drives, where we’re looking through a computer and all of its contents, deleted content, and password track and things like that. “It’s an interesting field.”
And Smith’s right footprint – not the digital kind – is all over the Herd’s success this season.