SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Eric Smith came to Auburn from Seffner, Fla., to run the ball, to score touchdowns, to be a star.
Auburn junior Eric Smith/Phillip Marshall photo
It didn’t work out that way. At least, it hasn’t so far. Smith played tailback as a freshman in 2008, but the past two seasons he’s been an H-back – a blocker and an occasional receiver. And he has no complaints. After all, he and his teammates will play for the BCS national championship Monday night against Oregon.
“It’s been kind of tough, a guy my size going against guys a lot bigger than I am almost every snap,” Smith said. “It’s what the team needs. Somebody has to do it. Somebody has to be the guy in the back while somebody is the face of the team. It’s all working out for the best. We are playing for the national championship right now.”
Smith, Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn says, has done his part and more.
“Eric is a real smart, savvy player,” Malzahn said. “He understands the game and can make adjustments real well. He does a lot of the dirty work. He could play tailback and be a good one, but he does things the general public doesn’t notice. He is very valuable to us.”
The No. 1 Tigers (13-0) finished up on-field preparations for No. 2 Oregon (12-0) on Saturday. The time is almost at hand.
“It’s been real fun,” Smith said. “We’ve been having a lot of good practices. I feel like we are going to have a very good game. It’s an overwhelming feeling. You never think you’ll be in this situation, getting ready to play for the national championship. It’s a very great feeling.”
Auburn players say Smith, 5-foot-10 and 240 pounds, is one of the more physical players on the field every time he plays. And they say he is as versatile as any Auburn player, more versatile than most.
“Eric is great,” tailback Onterio McCalebb said. “He’s just a great player. He can block and he can catch. People might not know it, but he can run, too.”
Smith hasn’t given up on getting an opportunity before his time at Auburn runs out.
“I’m not going to lie,” Smith said. “I miss getting a couple of carries, but you have to play your role, stay in your lane. I hope maybe I can get a few carries next season.”
But for now, Smith will do his thing. He will look up Oregon defenders to knock on their backs and be ready should quarterback Cam Newton throw the ball in his direction.
“We have a lot of guys doing a lot things people don’t see every down,” Smith said. “People don’t see what is going on. Once you sit down in the film room and break everything down, a lot of guys behind the scenes are doing a lot of things right now. That’s one of the big reasons we are here.”