After Waiting Their Turns, Speight And Smith Finding Senior Season Success

Good things come to those who wait. It’s a phrase every one of us has heard, yet few have the patience or trust to abide in. Today’s college football players are no different. With a limited number of seasons to prove their worth on the field, anything but instant super-stardom is often marked as a failure, with few players displaying the humility or selfless attitude that characterizes true team spirit. In a day and age when transferring has become the collegiate equivalent to testing the free agent market, descriptions like “leader” and “teammate” have become increasingly hollow. Derrvin Speight and Michael Smith are not only leaders and teammates, but they are living examples for those who’ve ever doubted the old cliché. Former backups who’ve gone through their share of injuries and depth chart shakeups, they’ve weathered player comings and going and even a program overhaul. Now, a third of the way through their senior season, they’ve become the driving force behind one of college football’s most exciting offenses. Speight and Smith’s current roles as starters on the field is a far cry from what many Utah State fans were expecting heading into 2010. It’s not that those in Logan have ever doubted their talents, but coming off of a 2009 season that saw Utah State sophomore Robert Turbin rumble for 1,296 rushing yards, Aggie fans weren’t expecting to see their star’s backups carrying the load. Yet when the second-team all-WAC running back suffered a season-ending knee injury during offseason workouts, that is exactly the role that Speight and Smith embraced. “They knew that as soon as that injury happened they would have to carry the load,” said Utah State head coach Gary Andersen. “Instantly, they felt bad for Robert, and helped Robert get through the emotional time that he went through. They also grasped the situation and looked at it as an opportunity to say ‘hey, now the ball is in my court, so I’ve got to take advantage of the situation.'” On the field and in the locker, both Speight and Smith have done their part to pick up where the record-setting Turbin left off. The process of replacing their friend began in spring practices, but it didn’t end there. >From setting an example in the weight room during summer conditioning, to holding Utah State’s players accountable off the field and in the classroom, the two seniors have shown a quiet but determined leadership that has caught the attention of all at the university. “They both are quiet-type leaders,” said Utah State offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin. “We don’t have an outspoken leader, but they lead by their example and by their play.” Both Speight and Smith’s road to senior leadership hasn’t always been perfectly mapped out. In fact, their journeys to becoming senior starters could have been considered anything but a straight path. Speight started out at Utah State in 2006, but didn’t see his first action until his redshirt freshman year in 2007. It was then that the 5-foot-9, 209-pound running back burst onto the scene, leading the Aggies with 504 rushing yards and three scores. The sky was the limit for the young star, and with his shifty moves and deceptive strength, nothing seemed able to stop him. That was, nothing on the field. A foot injury kept Speight out of the lineup for all of 2008. When he finally healed, however, a new group of running backs had arrived in Logan, and despite showing flashes of brilliance as a junior in 2009, he never had the opportunity to regain his former starting spot. The ascension of Turbin was one of the chief reasons why Speight never reclaimed the starting role. The addition of Michael Smith to the Utah State roster was another. A versatile back with breakaway speed and home run hitting ability, the junior college star came into the lineup in 2009 and contributed right out of the gate, accounting for over 500 yards rushing and receiving on the season, while scoring six touchdowns. Given the success of the other runners on the roster, including an up-and-coming freshman by the name of Kerrywnn Williams, Speight had every reason to leave Utah State and take his game somewhere else. He didn’t allow his injury misfortunes and a drop on the depth chart to get the better of him though, and instead trusted that things would work out in the long run. “I believe everything happens for a reason,” Speight said. “I believe God put me here for a reason. I never try to look at the bad things in a situation, I just try to take the good out of it and make the best of my situation.” Speight’s patience finally paid off on September 11th, 2010. Against the Idaho State Bengals in Utah State’s home opener, the senior powered his way to 78 yards and a touchdown on the ground. A week later he started against Fresno State and has established himself once again as a playmaker in Baldwin’s offense. “Derrvin has really developed into a premier back for us,” Baldwin said. “He’s the go-to-guy right now.” According to Coach Andersen, Speight has been the consummate team player through his entire career at Utah State and never wavered from supporting the team, regardless of whether or not he was starting. “Derrvin didn’t bat an eye,” Andersen said. “He just waited for his opportunity. It says a lot about a kid. It says a lot about how he’s going to keep on battling and keep on fighting, and that’s exactly what Derrvin did and it all worked out in the end.” Smith’s career has worked out too, despite the fact that the senior from Tucson, Ariz. has been injured through the first part of the 2010 season. Nevertheless, when healthy, Smith has been electric in the lineup. While he brings big-play ability to Utah State’s offense every time he touches the ball, he likes to imagine his impact on the team extending beyond just what happens for three hours each Saturday. “I want people to know that I’m dedicated to this team and to this program. I’m always wanting to help the younger players get better,” Smith said. “I’m helping push them to their limits and helping them improve, mentally, physically and emotionally, and not just as football players, but as people.” Smith takes special pride in helping Utah State’s freshmen adjust to life in college. From giving rides to junior college transfers to befriending local freshmen players who’ve been away from home for the first times in their lives, Smith said that it’s his goal as one of Utah State’s offensive captains to make every player on the Aggie roster feel at home. “I’m there for them as their friend, not just for football,” he said. “If they need a ride, or help studying, or take them to dinner, I’m there for them. I just want to be a great leader and great team captain and a great football player. Off the field, Speight and Smith are relaxed and easy-going, but when it comes to practice, the two make sure everyone is giving it their all. They also realize that as seniors they are under the microscope, and say they strive to constantly be on top of their game when setting an example. “We don’t want to be slouching or taking any plays off because then the other players will think, ‘oh Michael and Derrvin are slouching and taking a play off, I can too,'” said Smith. “We want to work together to show our dedication and belief in this team, this program, Coach Andersen and our other coaches. That belief can take this team to the next level and a bowl game,” he added. One might think that after spending so much time behind Turbin last year, Smith and Speight have let their battle for carries affect the way they view each other off the field. They haven’t however, and say that if the experiences of the past year and a half have done anything for them, they’ve brought the two seniors closer. “We have a great relationship on and off the field,” Smith said. “Derrvin is one of my roommates, so we eat dinner together, study together and play games together. We have a great understanding and relationship with each other.” “We’re not selfish, when he does something good, I’m right there praising his efforts,” added Smith. “We just want to help our team get to a bowl game.” Having not been to a bowl game since 1997, returning to the postseason for this year’s Aggie team would be quite an accomplishment. For the two senior running backs who’ve proven that good things really do come to those who wait, the prospect of achieving bowl eligibility would be the perfect finish to their college football careers. “Ever since I’ve been here we’ve always had losing seasons,” said Speight. “To have a winning season and take us to a bowl game would definitely be a highlight in my career.” -USU-

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