Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)
Happy Thursday Hoosier Nation and welcome back to our Countdown to Kickoff, another day closer to not only the weekend, but now just 23 days away until the start of what looks to be a very promising year for Coach Wilson and his team. With the relatively recent news that cornerback Laray Smith would be living the squad, we were without, as of a now, a player who will be donning the number for Indiana this season. However, this gives us an opportunity to highlight the career of a very talented Hoosier from history, another Smith in fact, running back Alex Smith. In all of sports there is no number more iconic than 23, and while Smith may not have been the professional success or global icon that Michael Jordan was, for three years in the mid 1990's there was no player on the gridiron in Bloomington quite as talented as he.
In a state where high school basketball reigned supreme, especially riding on the heels of Damon Bailey Hysteria, it was unimaginable that anyone or anything could shift Hoosiers' attention from the hardwood for even a moment, but the running back Brookville did just that. During Smith's first three years at Franklin County High he carried the ball for over 3,800 yards.
However, it was his senior season that I imagine had natives of Indiana saying something along the likes of, "...You had my curiosity, but now you have my attention." During that final year in prep ball he carried the pigskin for what was then a state record 3,024 yards and 40 touchdowns, ultimately culminating in him being named Indiana "Mr. Football" in 1992, the first time ever such a distinction was awarded.
Upon receiving the award, Smith responded "I can't believe it. This is the most exciting thing I've ever won." His finished his career with 6,895 yards rushing, which at the time was best in the state.
His decision to attend Indiana University was an easy one, as the Hoosiers style of offense fit perfectly what he liked to do as a runner. His first fall in Bloomington he took a redshirt season, helping Indiana prepare for upcoming opponents by being a major contributor on the scout team.
The first chance he got to wow fans, he did not disappoint, rushing for 197 yards on 20 carries during the team's Red and White spring game the following April. That fall he lit up opposing defenses on the regular, breaking the 200 yard mark in three games as a redshirt freshman, all away from the friendly confines of Memorial Stadium (245 yards at Purdue, 232 yards at Iowa, 221 yards at Kentucky). He finished the year with 1,475 rushing yards, which is the fifth best single season output by a Indiana running back. He also made it to the endzone 10 times, averaged an outstanding 5.6 yards per carry, and was named second-team All-Big Ten.
Due to an ankle injury that forced him to sit out four games as a sophomore, Smith's productivity took a dip, carrying the ball just 166 times for 769 yards and three touchdowns. His still averaged a quite respectable 4.6 yards per carry. His junior season he toted the ball 292 times for 1,248 yards and eight touchdowns.
Not only were fans appreciative of his "leave it all on the field" mentality, but his biggest supporter might have been his head coach. "An Indiana boy," says coach Bill Mallory. "Tough. My kind of player. A good character person who's not a mouthy guy. Alex isn't one of these `I' jackasses who has to be up on a pedestal all the time. And there are a lot of those around today."
When his career had come to a close he held a 3-1 record, counting his redshirt season, against the Boilermakers. His single season rushing totals of 1,475 and 1,248 are still fifth and ninth best in school history, respectivly. His career 3,492 rushing yards are third best all time behind IU greats Anthony Thompson (5,299 yards) and Antwaan Randle El (3,895 yards). Additionally, prior to Tevin Coleman accomplishing the feat this past fall, Smith was the last non-quarterback to lead the team in total offense, doing it in both 1994 and '96.
While Smith never caught on at the next level, he certainly left many Hoosier fans with fond memories of his passionate play and blue collar mentality. His career and playing style at Indiana could be summed up in one quote that he gave as a junior, "I'm just someone from a working-class family. And I kind of think of myself that way, I just come to work and do what's asked of me."