Versatile, vivacious and extremely valuable are three ways to describe University at Albany junior Andrew “Drew” Smith, who has gradually become one of the main weapons for the dynamic Great Danes’ offense.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound tailback’s maturation into a star running back is one of the reasons why UAlbany is not only riding a six-game winning streak, but is also in first place in the Northeast Conference standings. If UAlbany can hold on and win the conference title, the Danes will receive an automatic bid into the Division I FCS playoffs.
The Great Danes, who are receiving votes in both The Sports Network and FCS Coaches national polls, are 5-0 in the league and 6-2 overall. They host Bryant University Saturday at 1 p.m.
“I think the main reason why the whole team is playing so well right now is confidence,” said Smith, a Guilderland High School graduate, who was named the NEC’s offensive player of the week after rushing for 149 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries at Wagner last Saturday. “We lost that first game in overtime at Colgate, and then we lost to a very good Maine team, but we started to come around in the Columbia game. When we played well against Duquesne and Robert Morris, two of the best teams in the league on back-to-back weeks, our confidence grew even more.”
UAlbany head coach Bob Ford believes Smith can do it all.
“When he was a high school senior, he was the poster boy for everything that was good about high school athletics. He was a great student, had a delightful personality and was a superb athlete. He had so many things going for him,” said Ford.
“In all honesty, he probably should have gone a level above us, but I think people wanted him to play different positions, and he wanted to stay at quarterback. We promised him an opportunity to do just that, but as it turned out, because of our needs, we talked about getting him on the field as a running back. He resisted a bit at the beginning, but then he gave it a try for the good of the team.”
UAlbany’s original plan on offense was to split its rushing attack among Smith, Omar Osbourne, Dillon Romaine and Ben Misekis, but Misekis got dinged up, and Smith eventually stepped up to become the primary ball carrier. He leads the Great Danes with 735 yards on 127 carries, an average of 5.7 yards per carry. He also has seven touchdowns.
A former quarterback at Guilderland, where he threw for 552 yards, rushed for 940 and accounted for 17 touchdowns as a senior in leading the Dutchmen to the Section II Class AA Super Bowl, Smith also has 16 receptions for 201 yards and a touchdown. And although he is no longer a signalcaller, he still gets a chance to throw the ball once in a while. He has completed both of his passing attempts for touchdowns.
“At first, I just wanted the ball,” Smith said. “Last year, I didn’t have the right mentality to be full-time tailback. But I talked to [former UAlbany rushing standout] Dave McCarty, and he gave me some advice. I was trying to figure out how a running back works. I didn’t really know what to do.
“But I had Dillon Romain and some of the other guys on my heels for playing time, and I’m very competitive. I want the ball as much as possible now.”
Smith said he has accepted the inevitable aches and pains of his position.
“Physically, I’m in the treatment room all the time. That’s what helps keep you healthy, and I’ve been healthy so far,” he said. “I’ve never endured this kind of physical play before. These are grown men pounding on you for the entire game. But I get through it.”
Ford said that Smith trimmed about 10 pounds off his physique and gained some speed without losing much strength.
“He was a bit too heavy last year, but he took the weight off and paid the price in the weight room,” said Ford. “He’s much more durable this year. He’s the only kid in the NEC that has a running, passing and receiving touchdown. He’s obviously a kid with multiple talents. He even returns kicks for us.”
Smith gives credit to his improved offensive line for much of his performance.
“We knew we would be good on the perimeter, but we were all kind of skeptical about the offensive line,” he said. “But these guys have been spectacular. They shock me every week. If we end up winning the conference championship, they deserve much of the credit.”
The former Gazette Offensive Player of the Year admitted that he and his teammates can’t help but think about a possible NCAA playoff bid.
“It’s almost impossible not to think about the conference championship and an automatic bid,” he said. “When I’m in the training room, there are no NCAA football banners, only ones for basketball, volleyball, lacrosse and sports like that. I know if we do get a chance to make the NCAAs, I’ll be an
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