Despite all of the records he broke at Clearwater (Fla.) Central Catholic High — touchdowns by a quarterback (34), passing yards in a game (397), and points scored (507) with him under center in 2014 — Jeff Smith couldn’t shake the label teams tagged him with on the recruiting circuit.
For one word, it couldn’t be more ambitious. It could mean wide receiver, running back, or cornerback. But when Smith went looking for a landing spot, he was hoping it meant quarterback.
Some of college football’s top programs were recruiting Smith. But the path those teams saw for the 6-foot-1-inch, 182-pound playmaker was different than what he saw for himself.
The Wisconsin Badgers were the first team to come knocking, in March 2014. They saw Smith’s 4.52-second time in the 40-yard dash and pictured him as a cornerback. He drew interest from Ohio State, Indiana, Louisville, and Iowa State among others for the same reasons and with the same plans.
But Smith always saw himself as a quarterback. And so did Boston College coach Steve Addazio. When BC made its offer in July 2014, Smith knew it was the right fit.
Now, a little over a year later, the Eagles (2-1) are facing a quarterback crisis after losing starter Darius Wade to a season-ending ankle injury in last Friday’s loss to Florida State and Smith will be thrown into the fire as a true freshman along with redshirt freshman Troy Flutie.
Addazio has yet to name a starter and likely will remain mum until the Eagles kick off Saturday at 1 p.m. against Northern Illinois at Alumni Stadium. Neither quarterback was available to the media this week, but Smith has said this opportunity was the reason he came to the Heights.
“People don’t think I can play [quarterback], so I’m out to prove that I can spin it with the best of them,’’ he told the Tampa Tribune in an interview a year ago. “I just needed someone to give me a chance and Boston College did.”
Along with his speed and arm strength, Addazio appreciated the chip that Smith wore on his shoulder.
“I think playing quarterback’s all about that feeling,” Addazio said. “It’s all about having that something special, that ‘it’ factor. And I think you look for that.”
It’s something Addazio said he saw in Tyler Murphy when he originally recruited the former Eagles quarterback when he was the offensive coordinator at Florida. Murphy wasn’t a highly regarded recruit coming out of Wethersfield (Conn.) High in 2010, but his running ability earned him the same “athlete” label as Smith. It took two seasons in Gainesville for Murphy to even attempt a pass for the Gators, and he had to transfer from Florida to Boston College to break
“It didn’t materialize for him until his fifth year,” said Adazzio of Murphy, drawing parallels to Smith. “He waited and hung in there. Having recruited both of them and being around both of them, I’d say there are some real similarities there.
“I definitely like a guy that can move around. I’m not opposed to a great throwing quarterback . . . I just like some mobility.”
Smith connected the dots himself. He knew he was cut from the same mold as Murphy, and he saw the way Addazio used his senior quarterback last season.
“Tyler Murphy is a top 10 rusher and can throw the football,” Smith told the Tampa Tribune. “That’s my skill set. That really closed the deal for me.”
Addazio has nothing but confidence in Smith, but he’s also realistic about the limitations for a freshman quarterback making the early-season leap into a starter’s role.
“We thought he threw the ball pretty well,” Addazio said. “He’s obviously got great speed. We thought he had a great competitive demeanor about him. And we thought he had great potential and I think we’re right.
“He’s got to develop. He’s been here a couple months. He’s just a young kid. What’s happening right now is a lot of young kids are getting forced into play probably prior to an ideal situation when you would play them. But that’ll pay dividends for you. Maybe not right this second, but it will pay dividends.”
What Smith lacks in experience, Flutie makes up for, having been in the Eagles’ system for a year. The most-likely scenario, Addazio said, is that both quarterbacks split time and their strengths balance out.
“Troy has been around as long as Darius,” Addazio said. “He has a pretty good understanding of everything we want to do. A real nifty runner. He’s elusive. Has a great knack for anticipating throws and making things happen. He showed that this week. He’s really handled himself well.”
Even though the starter is in flux, the offense has trust in both of its young arms as well.
“They both seem to be great right now, very composed and comfortable,” said receiver Bobby Swigert. “On game day, I think the biggest thing is to realize that they have the talent to play at this level obviously. They know the plays, they know the offense, so I guess it’s just telling them to have confidence and they’re good enough to succeed.
“They’re both just really great competitors. They both bring a lot to the table as quarterbacks. They both can move pretty well. They both have really good arms. And just the mental aspect is what they’re going to have to show that they have on game day.”