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Passing the torch: Smith thrust into spotlight after Wilson’s late-season injury

Passing the torch: Smith thrust into spotlight after Wilson’s late-season injury

North Texas freshman running back Nic Smith runs the ball in a game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Sept.23 at Apogee Stadium. North Texas defeated UAB 46-43. Sara Carpenter

Passing the torch: Smith thrust into spotlight after Wilson’s late-season injury
November 29
11:32 2017

Nic Smith seemed to be the perfect yang to Jeffery Wilson’s yin at the running back position for North Texas this season. The redshirt freshman went in when Wilson, the experienced senior, left the field to rest – and the offense largely did not skip a beat.

Wilson was the power back, scoring 17 touchdowns his final season and averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Smith, meanwhile, was shiftier as he is listed 2 inches shorter than Wilson and 12 pounds lighter. Both brought a different dynamic, but they balanced the offense for the coaching staff.

It was the perfect duo – until Wilson left the field during the Army game, returning on crutches with a boot on his right foot.

Now, Smith will be tasked with being both the yin and yang of the Mean Green rushing attack as he takes over the lead role late in the year from one of his best friends.

“For this to happen [to Jeffery], it’s kind of crazy,” Smith said. “We use the motto next man up, but [Jeffery] is my brother. He’s a great back, a great person and he taught me a lot.”

Smith’s speed and lateral quickness led to the North Texas coaches giving him a nickname that has stuck and seems only appropriate.

Quick.

“Some of my coaches [here gave it to me],” Smith said. “I got quick feet so that’s what they called me. It’s good with me. I like the nickname.”

In North Texas’ win against Rice Saturday, Smith started the first game of his collegiate career.

He hit the holes hard and seemed to be comfortable as the primary back, carrying the ball 26 times for 178 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s prepared the right way,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “When you lose a guy like Jeffery, it’s hard to replace him. Everybody has to elevate their game overall. [But] I’m excited for Quick, and I’m excited to watch him shine.”

Smith has carried the ball over eight times in just four games this season. In those games, he racked up 72 carries for 417 yards – not quite the gaudy 6.5 yards per carry Wilson was averaging, but more than enough to help the offense thrive.

Wilson’s leadership among the younger members of the backfield has been discussed at length this season, and he has continued to leave his mark on Smith since his injury.

“He gave me the advice to finish everything I do,” Smith said. “Carries are going to be a lot more from what I used to get, so [I’m going to] keep my body healthy and get ready to roll.”

Smith took the advice from Wilson to heart and appeared to adjust nicely to the workhorse load by taking 26 of the 33 carries North Texas distributed to its backfield against the Owls.

After having the luxury of going back and forth between Wilson and Smith when needed throughout the year, offensive coordinator Graham Harrell will now be tasked with rolling with a new lead back. So far, it hasn’t changed much for the Mean Green.

“You can’t replace Jeff’s experience,” Harrell said. “But Nic does a lot of good things, so we don’t expect anything different offensively with Nic in the game. When he has the ball in his hands he’s special, so we have high expectations for Quick just like we did for Jeff.”

Quick, as his teammates and coaches call him, has seen Wilson work for the last two seasons and has taken lessons from him constantly. But now instead of producing in short bursts, he will be relied on to bring it on almost every snap.

“[Wilson] is a mean back,” Smith said. “I’m mean too, kind of, but he’s a different kind of mean. When I back him up I want to keep it rolling, so I learned a lot from him.”

While Wilson was a capable route runner and receiver out of the backfield, he was perhaps even more talented as a pass blocker. Smith isn’t as experienced of a pass blocker, but he does bring a similar ability to catch the backfield. He has 14 catches for 129 yards and two scores this year.

The change could make things slightly different for sophomore quarterback Mason Fine as he has a different type of back at his side throughout the final two games. But, as always, Fine’s confidence is high heading into the postseason.

“Throughout the season, [Nic] has done a lot of great things,” Fine said. “He’s still young so he’s working on some things, but I have full confidence in him. He’s going to be a great running back [in the future], and he’s been a great back this year.”

With one game down as the premier back, Smith got off to a promising start. But the stakes are higher than ever as the Mean Green continue preparation for their rematch against Florida Atlantic University in the Conference USA championship game this weekend.

And while he may not have the experience Wilson brings to the table, the potential is certainly there. And Quick is ready to show it.

“It’s a big role and big shoes I have to fill,” Smith said. “I look forward to stepping up.”

Featured Image: North Texas freshman running back Nic Smith runs the ball in a game against the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Sept. 23 at Apogee Stadium. North Texas defeated UAB 46-43. Sara Carpenter

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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