Klitzing: New QB Smith Grateful for Jitters Again
Sept. 3, 2015
Past Michael Klitzing 2014-15 football features
Aztecs make strong first impression (Aug. 30)
Pumphrey's dominance is no passing fancy (Sept. 27)
Injury bug can't keep these Aztecs off the field (Oct. 19)
Barrett's play helps SDSU keep goals within reach (Nov. 8)
Pumphrey has Aztec history within reach (Nov. 29)
Aztecs, Pumphrey unable to savor record season (Dec. 23)
New Aztecs QB Smith grateful to feel those gameday jitters again
By Michael Klitzing
Those old game-week butterflies have arrived for Maxwell Smith. That feeling of nervous energy– the kind that can make your mind race and keep you up at night – is no doubt something a lot of college football players take for granted.
Not when you’ve waited nearly two full years to recapture that feeling.
“I’ll be sitting in bed sometimes just thinking about it what it’s going to be like to play at Qualcomm for the first time in front of so many fans,” said Smith, who was officially handed the keys to the San Diego State offense earlier this week. “I start to get this weird feeling that I don’t really know how to explain – it’s a feeling I haven’t had in a while. Last year, with all the practice I put in knowing I wasn’t going to touch the field, I didn’t get that feeling.
“But I’m feeling that little tingle now. It’s definitely a feeling I love.”
Saturday will mark the beginning of the Maxwell Smith era on Montezuma Mesa as the Aztecs open the 2015 season by hosting the University of San Diego in front of a KGB SkyShow crowd at the Q. The senior gradate transfer who started parts of three seasons at the University of Kentucky will have just one year to make his stay a memorable one.
But he sports a track record that leads you to believe he can do exactly that.
Smith acquitted himself quite well against the elite competition of the Southeast Conference from 2011-13. Displaying a knack for being smart with the ball and avoiding costly turnovers, he threw 21 touchdown passes and only 9 interceptions in 486 attempts. Along the way, he tested his mettle at some of the most legendary venues the game has to offer, taking snaps in the din of Death Valley and Between the Hedges.
“He’s been in big battles playing in the SEC,” said Aztecs offensive coordinator Jeff Horton. “I don’t think there’s anything too big for him, anything he hasn’t seen. He has a calmness about him, but he’s competitive, he asks great questions, and he’s a hard worker. You want your quarterback to be that guy that has those intangibles.”
Ultimately, it was a string of injuries and switch to a spread offense that spelled the pro-style passer’s end in Lexington. But, whether it was for his steady play or the classy way he took his successor – quarterback Patrick Towles – under his wing last season, Smith is still highly regarded by the Wildcat faithful. Proof can be found in the flood of congratulatory messages from Kentucky fans – not to mention a shout-out from Towles – Smith received this week on Twitter.
“It felt good,” he admits. “I’ll always have a piece of me at Kentucky.”
Yet despite his SEC pedigree, Smith didn’t take a starting spot for granted upon arriving at SDSU. He turned in a strong performance in spring ball, and attacked strength and conditioning coach Adam Hall’s program with gusto, getting stronger while shedding about 10 pounds.
In fall camp, the slimmed-down Smith worked hard to improve his mobility with quarterbacks coach Blane Morgan, who was a run-first passer at Air Force. The lesson – get out of the pocket if nothing’s there, avoid sacks, don’t be afraid to take off – seems to have stuck.
Ultimately Smith showed adaptability and enough skill to beat out redshirt freshman Christian Chapman, a highly regarded youngster who figures to see at least a cameo role against USD.
“From the day he got here, (Smith) has come light years just understanding what we’re trying to do, and developing his leadership qualities as he went along,” Horton said. “He knew he had to earn everything. One thing about Coach (Rocky) Long’s program, you’ve got to earn everything you get. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’ve been, you come in with an even slate with everyone else and earn your keep.
“And he’s done that.”
The promise Smith holds for the Aztecs is clear: he should provide the consistent passing game sorely lacking last season because of injuries and inconsistent play (the former largely exacerbating the latter). Aztec quarterbacks connected on a mere 10 touchdowns and completed just 53 percent of their passes in 2014.
But besting those numbers isn’t what Smith has in mind. He has his own idea of what a successful season looks like.
“A successful season is winning another Mountain West championship," Smith said.
That’s a prospect exciting enough to keep any Aztec fan up at night.