It wasn’t a surprise to Jeremy Smith to earn carries despite a hefty number of running backs in the University of Louisville football program. It also wasn’t surprising to see the physical back plow through Indiana State tacklers last week, including a 21-yard run.
The surprising part was Smith returning to the Cardinals’ football program a week before the season. One of the most productive backs over the last couple of seasons departed from the program in the spring for personal reasons.
To the delight of the coaching staff, he returned on Aug. 26, eight days before the Cardinals were scheduled to open the season in Orlando, Florida, against Alabama.
While the former starting running back made the trip, he had to wait another week before completing his comeback.
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound back was inserted into the lineup and helped spark the Cardinals to a 31-7 win over Indiana State in the home opener.
“I thought that Jeremy did a really good job. I know Jeremy can play and play really well,” head coach Bobby Petrino said. “He’s done that for us. He’s led us to victories. He’s got to get in shape. That was a big thing for him. He’s been here for just a couple weeks. He’s worked really hard at it.”
Seeing his first action on the second drive versus the Sycamores, Smith looked like he never left the game – running off left tackle for 10 yards on his first carry in about a year.
He finished as the team’s leading rusher with 56 yards on six carries, aiding in a 24-point second half.
“It felt great to be back out on the field,” Smith said. “It pumped up the team a little more. I thought people got up and were more into the game when I got into the game.”
Smith is only two weeks into practice, but he’s continually putting forth the effort to return to form.
Smith took the field last Saturday with 660 career yards and 11 career touchdowns, posting his best season in 2016 when he rushed for 382 yards and eight touchdowns. He had his greatest performance a 24-14 win over Duke, rushing for 97 yards on four carries, including a career-long run of 80 yards.
The former Fresno City Community College product has worked hard to get back into playing shape, but still has a little ways to go before becoming the back he was before his hiatus.
“I feel like I can go out there and play a game,” Smith said. “I don’t feel like I’m at the point I was before I left. I still feel like I’m a step behind, but I’m working hard to get back to where I was before in my career.”
Smith was out of the game for over 7-8 months before calling the Louisville football offices to ask if he can help the team win games in 2018.
“I was excited to just to be back on the field,” Smith said. “I left a lot of things unsaid. I didn’t set a landmark for myself while I was here. I want reach the goals that I have set for myself. I want to be a 1,000-yard back, which I think I can accomplish.”
Smith will get another opportunity to take another step toward reaching his goals when the Cardinals take on Western Kentucky Saturday in Cardinal Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
by Rocco Gasparro