West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith stays humble despite gaudy statistics


West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith threw for 656 yards and eight touchdown passes last Saturday against Baylor. (Christopher Jackson/Associated Press)
October 4, 2012

Deep in the back yard of Tracey Sellers’s two-story South Florida home, stacked in a beige shed among the gardening tools and comforter sets and seasonal decorations, are three boxes containing almost all of the awards Geno Smith has ever won.

Smith’s mother exiled them long ago to “The Little House,” built long before the family moved in 13 years ago. Plaques, trophies, they’re all there. She boxed them because the awards invaded the house, like shiny bronze termites, everything except the file folder of paper certificates and a select few Sellers keeps in the family den.

The years went by and the honors kept coming. Academic achievement. Parade all-American. Broward County player of the year. Everything Smith never cared to keep around, he gave to his mother instead. Some boxed up and shipped to the backyard shed. All a reminder that Smith never gets stuck on inscriptions and shrines.

“He was always excited about what he achieved,” Sellers said of her son, West Virginia’s standout senior quarterback. “Someone acknowledged you, it’s not like he was looking for these awards. These are things that you’ve earned. I don’t think that he gives himself enough credit for how other people see him, how successful he has been in his young career. But I do know that he’s not a person who lives to please others.”

Her cellphone has rung non-stop. Everyone wants to hear from the woman who raised Geno Smith. Sellers is a small-business owner and runs a nonprofit organization called Parents Without Partners Life Center. “This is becoming . . .” her voice softening with disbelief from the parking lot outside work. “I’m just a regular mom with four kids. Three other children besides Geno.”

Besides Geno. A big besides. He’s the Heisman Trophy favorite, the pilot of West Virginia’s “Air Raid” offense, the kid who eschewed an interest in art for Morgantown and football. Smith has almost as many touchdown passes (20) as incompletions (25) through four games this season. In Saturday’s 70-63 win over Baylor he threw for 656 yards, the fourth-highest single-game total in Football Bowl Subdivision history, and eight touchdowns.

At Miramar High School in Sunrise, Fla., Smith cleaned streets with teammates and read to hospital patients, then torched the state’s top defenses. He was disciplined by Coach Damon Cogdell just once when he arrived to practice just minutes late after waiting on a ride. Cogdell benched him for the first half of Miramar’s next game. On Smith’s first play, he found current West Virginia teammate Stedman Bailey on a seam route. Touchdown, 70 yards.

“He’s just very professional,” Cogdell said. “Never talks back. Yes sir, no sir. Humble kid, probably sounds like a recorder, but he is. I always envisioned him being at this point, finally made it.”

When Smith and the eighth-ranked Mountaineers visit No. 11 Texas on Saturday, Cogdell will haul a television into his back yard and fire up the projector. Friends will gather, devouring buffalo wings and potato skins. Then they’ll watch the pride of Miramar play quarterback better than anyone else in college football.

An observer and a thinker, an artist and a perfectionist, Smith sponges up film, more so than any other quarterback West Virginia offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has ever seen. He was a vocal leader during the offseason, taking charge to correct mistakes during two-a-days, becoming more assertive and stronger, bulking up on weights and confidence. Against Maryland two weekends ago, he walked out first from the West Virginia locker room, amid a hovering cloud of white smoke and die-hards shrieking his name, fellow captains not far behind.

Smith was a laid-back only child until age 6. Sellers says he’s no different at 21. She ordered Disney books for entertainment, trekked with Geno to downtown Miami for history books and old newspaper printouts. His art portfolio was ruined in Hurricane Katrina, but teammate Tavon Austin still catches him doodling during class. He painted over pictures for a family tree project and won poetry contests. Those awards now live in cardboard boxes, too.

“I’m just a humble person, a really down-to-earth guy,” Smith said. “I couldn’t care less about that stuff. I’m not egotistical. Trophies and all that don’t make me feel special or better than anyone else.”

Maybe a Heisman Trophy will earn more prominent placement. Maybe.

Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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