North Texas Daily

Guyton is the new star, but Smiley’s leadership key to receiving corps

Guyton is the new star, but Smiley’s leadership key to receiving corps

December 01
13:29 2017

Turner Smiley will suit up in a North Texas uniform for the 47th time Saturday morning in Boca Raton, Florida.

As the only player on the offense to appear in more than 41 games as a member of the Mean Green, the senior wide receiver has been through the lows of the infamous 1-11 season in 2015 to the highs of a team on the verge of a Conference USA Championship.

It’s been a long ride for Smiley, but it’s been one he’s enjoyed being a part of.

“Going through those really awful seasons compared to now, it’s great, now it’s beautiful,” Smiley said. “Now we go out there and know we have a great chance we’re going to win the game and we’re confident we’re going to win every game. It’s a big difference.”

Smiley is the lone senior in a group of dynamic wide receivers. While his role has been reduced some this year, his impact has still been felt throughout the team.

Smiley has 27 catches and three touchdowns but has increased his yards per reception from 11.8 in 2016 to a team-high 17.4 this season. He’s been a big-play target for the offense in key situations and has been a reliable weapon down the field for sophomore quarterback Mason Fine.

“He made some big plays [against Army],” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “Being a senior, he’s been through a lot here so to finish the way he’s been finishing and to be stepping up throughout the year, I’m proud of the way he’s been able to make big plays.”

In the thrilling 52-49 win over Army, Smiley had only three catches –a 45-yard touchdown, a 68-yard touchdown and a 10-yard catch that moved the Mean Green into position for Trevor Moore’s game-winning field goal.

Only five of his 12 appearances have been starts this year, but the depth and competition he brings in games and practices have made an impression on the younger receivers around him.

“I’d say the best thing I’ve done is [increase the] competition,” Smiley said. “At the beginning I was with [Jalen Guyton] at Z, raising his level of play. Then I was at X with Rico [Bussey Jr], and that raised his level of play, so that’s what I’d say I did best.”

As a result of the depth and plethora of talent among the wide receiver position this season, Fine has dramatically increased his production through the air as a sophomore.

Fine has thrown for nearly 3,400 yards and 27 touchdowns after throwing for just 1,572 yards and six touchdowns last year.

Smiley has been a lead-by-example type of player among a talented group this season as North Texas enters its final stretch of games.

“He’s a senior, so he’s been here longer than those other receivers,” Fine said. “He comes in every day, works hard, sets a great example and he’s a playmaker. When we’ve thrown his way he usually is able to come down with the ball, so it’s great to see him step up.”

As the season has worn on, the senior wideout has put the team’s success ahead of his own. It’s something that head coach Seth Littrell has taken notice of.

In the beginning of the year, he took more of a teaching role as he reciprocated what he learned last season to the new receivers. Now, he’s reaping the benefits by taking advantage of his own opportunities as the season winds down.

“Change is hard for anyone,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “Anytime you get a new group learning a new system, especially after being round a few years, it’s challenging. He’s done a great job of growing and he knows the system.”

His versatility showed in the Army game when he went to play the Z position after sophomore receiver Jalen Guyton went into concussion protocol. Smiley had not played in that spot all year and still displayed his experience and value when the team needed it most.

While 27 catches rank at only fifth on the team, Smiley has made each one count.

“The thing about Smiley is he doesn’t have a ton of catches, but his catches have been big catches,” Harrell said. “He’s made a lot of big plays for us and this offense thrives on explosive plays.”

Smiley had another solid game against Rice University last Saturday as he hauled in six catches for 59 yards in his final regular season game. There are two games remaining, though, and his role in these matchups will be magnified as his leadership and presence are relied upon even more heavily.

In a month or so he’ll hang up the cleats for the Mean Green for the final time – but Smiley has been sure to leave a mark on a program he’s played a key role in transforming.

“I would describe it [all] as an experience,” Smiley said. “Fun times, I’ve met a lot of good friends and teammates and a lot of coaches. It’s just been a good experience being here.”

Featured Image: North Texas senior wide receiver Turner Smiley (1) catches a pass for a touchdown against Army. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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