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Small frame, big heart for Smith

Oct. 14, 2013 @ 12:30 AM

HUNTINGTON -- Marshall University wide receiver Devon Smith is used to being the smallest guy on the football field, and that's just okay with him.

What the 5-foot-7, 155-pound threat for the Thundering Herd lacks in size, he makes up for in determination.

That was never more evident than with the crucial plays he made Saturday throughout Marshall's 24-23 win over Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, Fla.

"It's just about being a ballplayer," Smith said. "I'm a ballplayer and I'm tough. I've got a lot of heart."

As Smith took the field Saturday afternoon fans in FAU Stadium had no clue what he was dealing with as he walked out.

They were unaware of the hamstring problem that plagued him or the recurring knee issues he has faced since the Virginia Tech game.

That's because Smith wasn't about to let anyone see him sweat. Not the opposition, not the Herd coaches, no one.

Smith has waited too long to get his time in the spotlight and he's not about to let it go.

"We have to put in all our effort," Smith said. "I'm a senior. This is my last chance, so I'm going to give it all I can handle. I'm still hurting right now, but that's just something I've got to push through and help him (Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato) out and my team out."

And help Cato out, he did Saturday.

With Marshall trailing 23-21 in the waning seconds, Cato felt pressure and threw up a jump ball down the left sideline to Smith, who was guarded by FAU's Cre'von LeBlanc.

Smith timed the jump perfectly and hauled in the 35-yard reception with LeBlanc doing everything possible to dislodge the ball.

It was to no avail as Smith held on to the reception, which led to Justin Haig's 41-yard game-winning field goal to give the Herd (4-2) its 24-23 win and keep the team first in the Conference USA East Division standings at 2-0.

"As soon as I saw the ball in the air, I knew it was a do-or-die situation," Smith said. "I'm either going to help my team win or I'm not going to help my team win and I'd take the fall for it.

"I didn't want to take the fall for it. I wanted to be the guy to help my team win and make everybody happy like everyone was when they came around and hugged me in the locker room."

It wasn't the only big play Smith had.

Smith actually started the scoring for the Herd early in the second quarter when he took a low line-drive punt from Sean Kelly and streaked down the left sideline. He then avoided Kelly and outraced FAU defenders to the end zone for a 77-yard touchdown return -- his first collegiate punt return touchdown.

When asked after the game which he was happier with, Smith didn't even hesitate.

"What? Quit acting like that," Smith said with a smile. "The catch. The catch! The touchdown? Nevermind that. The catch was needed to win the game. It's what we had to do. That was a big catch that we needed to win the game for us."

Each time Smith mentioned the two big plays, he spoke in terms of the team and what it meant to Marshall, not to himself.

With the team being a family and many of the players being from Florida, he wanted his teammates to celebrate a trip back home.

"We have a lot of Florida guys with a lot of their families here," Smith said. "They didn't want to take an 'L' down here. That makes me happy we got the win."

Many people have wondered why Marshall's coaching staff has put Smith on the outside at receiver in some situations instead of inside at a slot position where smaller receivers are prototypically lined up.

Saturday provided the answer to the questions. Head coach Doc Holliday and his staff know that each time Smith goes after a ball, he's going to battle and scrap to help his team.

Smith features a small frame, but there's a big heart in it.

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