MORGANTOWN - It is his third year in town, but junior quarterback Geno Smith is doing something for the very first time-fully participating in spring drills.
"Having two surgeries is just tough on you-mentally," explained Smith. "Just being out there with my teammates has helped me out a lot."
Smith, a Parade High School All-American and Florida Class 6A first team all-state selection, was heralded by many as the Mountaineers' quarterback-of-the-future when he graduated from Miramar High School.
Freshman quarterback Paul Millard displays his throwing skills during spring drills for the Mountaineers of West Virginia University. (Photo by Jim Butta)
And, let's face it, his numbers-3,089 yards and 32 touchdowns on 205-of-308 attempts-seemed to back up those beliefs. However, a freshman season that saw the 6-foot, 3-inch signal-caller appear in five games, completing 32-of-49 attempts for 309 yards and one touchdown, didn't exactly discourage fears that WVU's offense would suffer a serious drop-off in 2010.
Making matters worse was an injury that forced him to be more of a spectator than participant during spring drills. The results of which were mixed last season as the Florida-native completed 241-of-372 attempts for 2,763 yards and 24 touchdowns, but also displayed the ups and downs that a player, who is still learning the offense, undergoes.
"When you get a chance to get out there on the field (in the spring), you get a chance to get the pressure off your back," added Smith.
Something incoming freshmen Brian Athey and Paul Millard are getting an opportunity to do this spring.
"Those guys (the younger quarterbacks) are going to be great," explained Smith. "When I look at those guys, they are kind of ahead of where I was when I first came in."
The duo are part of six members of the Class of 2011 that elected to enter school in January so that they could go through spring drills and perhaps see playing time in the fall.
"I'm definitely glad that I decided to enter early," said Millard. "I can only imagine how far I would be behind the other quarterbacks if I had waited until the summer."
The 6-foot, 3-inch Athey completed 45-of-90 attempts for 719 yards with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions for Eden Prairie High School (Eden Prairie, Minn.) in 2010 while Millard (6-2, 200) connected on 331-of-500 passes for 4,491 yards and 47 touchdowns in 11 games at Flower Mound High School (Flower Mound, Texas).
"Some of the plays that Coach (Dana) Holgorsen has put in are plays that we ran back in Texas," continued Millard. "Texas is the home of the spread offense so I feel really comfortable in this offense."
Comfortable, but not secure.
"Coach Holgorsen is a really laid back guy," said Smith. "He doesn't ask for much, but when we get out there he wants us to execute to the best of our abilities.
"He tells us we can make mistakes, but he tells us to make them at 100 miles an hour."