Smith’s hoop skills pay off

KEVIN SMITH: Former starting receiver sparks Huskies with play on special teams

Staff writerNovember 18, 2012 

BOULDER, Colo. – Kevin Smith made the same play he’s made a hundred times. Only this time, he was wearing football cleats instead of basketball shoes.

The former starting wide receiver, who has been reduced to mostly playing on special teams this season, made the play of the game in Washington’s 38-3 win over Colorado on Saturday at Folsom Field.

No, Smith wasn’t on the receiving end of any of Keith Price’s five touchdown passes. In fact, he didn’t even play a snap at wide receiver.

Still, Smith made a brilliant play on special teams early in the second half that ignited the Huskies’ offense and helped turn the game into a blowout.

After an offensive pass interference penalty against Austin Seferian-Jenkins submarined Washington’s first possession of the third quarter, Smith went about his normal job of being a gunner on the punt coverage team.

But as he was sprinting down the field to cover the punt, he saw the ball bounce off the shoulder of Colorado’s Nelson Spruce and shoot toward the sideline. If the ball were to go out of bounds, the Buffaloes would have maintained possession.

“I was playing hard,” Smith said. “I saw it hit his shoulder. I knew it was going out of bounds. I just tried to keep it in play and keep it in bounds.”

Knowing he wasn’t going to be able to recover it himself, Smith reverted to his basketball training and leaped into the air a foot from the sideline and grabbed the ball and fired it back toward the field before it could go out of bounds.

“I was looking at the ball and the sidelines at the same time,” Smith said. “I knew I had enough room.”

The ball eventually wound up in the arms of teammate Will Shamburger, giving Washington possession on Colorado’s 35-yard line.

With new life and improved field position, Washington needed three plays to score a touchdown. Keith Price hit Kasen Williams on a 17-yard scoring pass to complete the drive.

“Just a huge special teams play by Kevin Smith,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I can’t wait to see the highlights of that play tonight.”

It’s a play you often see in a basketball game. It’s fitting because basketball is Smith’s first love. He didn’t start playing football until midway through his junior season in high school. He was an all-league basketball player and league MVP player at Centennial High in Los Angeles.

“Basketball is in my blood,” Smith said.

Smith hasn’t had the easiest year and half. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the days leading up to the Alamo Bowl last season. He tried to come back this season, but wasn’t the same. He tweaked the knee in the second game against LSU and has been relegated to special teams.

“Whatever I can do to help this team win, that’s what I’m going to do,” Smith said.

It’s that type of attitude that makes him one of Sarkisian’s favorites.

“It shows that he is just a team guy,” Sarkisian said. “Kevin has done that for us, whether it is in some of the punt returns or covering teams. I think he exemplifies what this team is about.”

His teammates were already lobbying for Smith’s play to be shown on all the highlight shows.

“That was ridiculous,” safety Justin Glenn said. “I saw the replay, and that’s an ESPN top-10 play. To have that awareness, it’s just crazy.”

While there was no debate about Smith’s play being important, there was some about his basketball skills.

Smith has often said he’s the best basketball player on the football team. Price, who was also a standout basketball player, shook his head.

“He’s a pretty good player, but I don’t think he’s better than me,” Price said, grinning. “He’s in the top two.”

But if they are in the top two, what about Seferian-Jenkins, who was on the UW basketball team last season?

“I’m not going to debate it,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “Kevin Smith is a really good basketball player. I’m not going to say I’m the best. But I’ve seen him playing in his prime at the IMA (Intramural Activities Building) and he is really, really good.”

Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 ryan.divish@ thenewstribune.com

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