Steve Smith Feature
Sept. 21, 2005
By Colleen Murray
USC Sports Information Student Assistant
As a 13-year-old, Steve Smith watched the television in amazement as Florida State junior Peter Warrick and his team celebrated Warrick's three touchdowns in the Seminoles' Sugar Bowl victory, which gave them the 1999 national championship.Six years later, as a 19-year-old USC wide receiver, Smith found himself in the Orange Bowl, playing Oklahoma for the rights to the 2005 crown.
'There I was, doing the same thing. And I was only a sophomore,' Smith said.Smith scored an Orange Bowl record-tying three touchdowns, including a 33-yard, one-handed catch with a defender on him. Additionally, Smith had seven catches, a game best, for 113 yards.
With Smith's laid-back demeanor and the fact that he shares the offensive field with a Heisman Trophy winner (Matt Leinart) and a Heisman Trophy finalist (Reggie Bush), his feats are liable to be overlooked. But the junior wide receiver, who starts opposite standout wide receiver Dwayne Jarrett, remains unfazed as he continues to quietly shine on USC's star-studded offense.
Despite his relatively low profile, the fans definitely know who Smith is.After a day at practice, fans request autographs from Smith, who is happy to oblige, but these requests are nothing new for the junior.
'In high school, people asked for autographs, but not nearly as much as now,' Smith recalls.
Smith was a 2002 Parade All-American, as well as the top wide receiver during his senior season at Taft High in Woodland Hills, Calif. Smith also earned USA Today All-USA first team and Student Sports All-American first team nods among a host of other honors.
With those credentials, the future looked promising for Smith, and when USC wanted to add the high school senior to its already talented roster, Smith couldn't say no.
'I wanted to come to be successful in life, on and off the field and to play with the number one team in America,' Smith said.
'I felt good about my skills,' Smith said. 'I knew that I would come here and learn. I had two great receivers ahead of me when I was a freshman. It worked out perfectly.'
Colbert quickly took a liking to Smith and took him under his wing.
'Keary's my mentor,' Smith said. 'Just look at him today, in the NFL. He and Mike just made so many big plays. All you can do is just study them and continue to learn and work hard.'Smith did work hard. In 2003, as a true freshman, he competed in the season's first game at Auburn. Not only did Smith get in, he also got a catch in the game.
'It was crazy, the atmosphere, the Southeast Conference,' Smith said. 'It was real hot and I couldn't see the ball really because of all the orange in the stands. It was way different from high school. But it felt good to get out there and get some plays in.'
Overall, in his freshman season, he played in 12 of 13 games, but the highlight of his football career came in a home game against Oregon State.Smith scored a 73-yard touchdown, which was USC's longest play from scrimmage in 2003.
'That was the greatest feeling ever,' Smith said. 'Keary just came and corralled me afterwards. It was awesome.'
Although playing understudy to Colbert and Williams was a good experience for Smith, that role changed quickly and dramatically. The Carolina Panthers drafted Colbert after the 2003 season and Williams left USC in hopes of entering the NFL. With that, Smith was thrust into the starting lineup.
'Just by learning from those two guys, I knew that I could come out here and make plays,' Smith said. 'I was going against the best defense in the country (in practice). It starts in practice. I was seeing what I could do.And I was ready to make the plays.'
He notched a career-high eight catches early against Colorado State in 2004 and started the first five contests. Then, against California, Smith broke his leg after a reception.
After sitting out five games, he made it back into the lineup for the games against Notre Dame, UCLA, and the highly anticipated Orange Bowl match-up against Oklahoma. The prospect of playing for a second straight national championship title exhilarated Smith.
'Man, I was excited (about the Orange Bowl),' Smith said. 'That was my expectation but it was great to have it be real. It was going down in history forever. We went and bossed up, made the plays, and we won.'
USC won with help from Smith and his three touchdowns. Smith looks to expand on his success this season and become a mentor for freshman wide receiver Patrick Turner, just as Colbert was for Smith two years ago.
'Patrick Turner, that's my boy,' Smith said of his wide receiver protégé.'We kick it on the field and off the field. He's kind of similar to me, even though he's 6-foot-5. He's kind of my understudy. I think he's going to do well.'
Smith's praise for Turner is accompanied by constructive criticism during practice.
' I tell him what to do right,' Smith said. 'He's such a good guy. He takes criticism the right way and he just wants to learn.'Smith is setting a good example for Turner. In USC's 63-17 season-opening victory over Hawaii two weeks ago, Smith had seven catches for 185 yards and a touchdown. He followed it up with four catches for 129 yards against Arkansas.
'Coach (Pete Carroll) was saying we were the fastest team on earth. We were ready for the atmosphere out there,' Smith said.
Being dubbed 'the fastest team on earth' flatters, more than overwhelms, Smith. He is used to having a lot of attention placed on the team. And he doesn't mind that a majority of that limelight isn't directly centered on him.
'I'm happy with the little pub I get,' Smith said. 'We have Heisman finalists, Heisman winners, so it's just great to be part of this historic team and I'm just happy to be here.'
Who knows, there may just be a 13-year-old out there who is watching Smith and hoping to say the same thing one day.