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March 30, 2012
NC State needed some help at wide receiver last season after the graduation of longtime standouts Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams and Darrell Davis. With a quartet of experienced defensive backs penciled in as starters, the coaching staff moved cornerback Rashard Smith to the other side of the ball in preseason camp and let the former high school quarterback try to make his mark with the ball in his hands.
Smith recorded a six-yard reception in the season opener against Liberty and then became the first Wolfpack player since 2005 to see action on both sides of the ball in one game when he do so against Wake Forest in the second contest of the year.
He also played both ways the following week against South Alabama before appearing exclusively on defense the rest of the campaign. Although Smith started a trio of games at cornerback during the 2011 season and finished with 19 tackles, including one for loss, and a pass break-up, he is back on offense to start this spring and coach Tom O'Brien sounded confident that is where he'll stay.
"I believe that's where he's best suited for us and can best help us this year," the coach said.
Smith isn't concerned with which side of the ball he plays on, just that he is doing the most to help his squad.
"I'm a team player, so I'm always going to put my team first," he said. "If the coaches tell me I've got to play offense to help the team out, then I'm going to go and play offense. I still interact with my defensive guys because I came here as a defensive player, but they moved me to offense, so me and my offensive buddies are going to take over from here and go to work.
"I've been comfortable [at receiver]. When I was young, coming through middle and high school - even as far back as flag football - I've always played quarterback so I've always had the ball in my hands. I feel like I'm at home with the ball in my hands. I played offense last year, I played offense all through high school, so it's nothing unusual. I'm just coming out here and working hard every day, working for the coaches and working to make my team better every day.
"It's been a tough transition, but you've just got to study film and study your playbook."
Despite how tough the changes have been on the player, Smith knows that he can use the flip-flopping to his advantage.
"It will help a lot because after being on the defensive side of the ball, I know corner tendencies, I know defensive tendencies depending on down and distance, I know which coverages defenses like to run on certain downs," he noted. "I know corners very well so I know what corners like to do, I know how corners read receivers' routes. I'm able to read the defensive coverages and make plays."
Being a nomad and changing sides of the ball is not the only challenge that Smith has had to overcome during his career in Raleigh. The 5-foot-11, 176-pounder first cracked the starting lineup in the second game of his true freshman season before suffering an ankle injury during his second career start.
After missing a pair of contests, he returned as a reserve at boundary corner and then was back in the starting lineup against Boston College. After tallying four stops and a pass break-up against the Eagles, he suffered a season-ending knee injury and redshirted during the 2010 season due to the torn ACL.
"That made my sit down and actually take football way more serious than I did," Smith remembered. "I always took it serious, but knowing that anything can happen at any time took it to another level. I want to be able to play after college so I have to come in and study film.
"But it just doesn't happen inside the Wendell Murphy Center or on the football field, it happens outside of there, it happens inside of the classroom, it happens inside of the community, it happens everywhere."
Smith was especially excited that the team started practicing in full pads on Tuesday. Although he is now an offensive player, he still looks forward to the contact and he even had a fresh battle scar on his forehead to show for it.
"It was real exciting to put full pads on," he said. "I came out here and made contact. I got the blood flowing and I got a scratch across the head, but that means we're working hard. Putting on full pads means that you can smell it in the air, football is coming soon. We'll be ready for Aug. 31 [when the Pack plays Tennessee]."
With the season opener just over five months away, though, Smith is focused on making sure that his former running mates at defensive back have all they can handle at practice because the Pack must replace three senior wide receivers again this offseason.
"We have a great opportunity," Smith noted. "We've got guys who played last year in Tobais Palmer, Quintin Payton and Bryan Underwood. Those three guys played offense last year and I played a little bit of offense, so we've got experience coming back, we've got some veteran. Then, of course, we've got Mike Glennon at quarterback. With the three guys we lost, it's out turn to step in and make plays for this offense. It starts with the offensive line, they protect Mike, Mike throws the ball and we've got to catch the ball. It's like clockwork."
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