Hard Work Pays Off For Smith

Aaron Smith

There's a chance you don't recognize him. Once a local high school star, he came to Pitt with the intention of making a difference. And after redshirting last year, Aaron Smith looks like he may finally be on his way.

Highly touted out of nearby Gateway High School in Monroeville, Aaron Smith was one of the most versatile players in the state. Playing quarterback, receiver and defensive back, he excelled on the field. A four-year starter and three-time all-conference selection, he chose Pittsburgh over schools like Tennessee, Penn State and Maryland.

And after having so much success as a two-way starter, Smith isn't used to playing just one spot. But now at Pitt, he's focused on being the best receiver he can be. "I was kind of just learning the playbook," Smith said of last season. "Now, I'm really getting used to it and putting everything together on the field."

Putting it together on the field is the most difficult thing for most players. Some have all the talent in the world, but can't seem to get comfortable at a higher level. But for Smith, everything is coming together.

So far this spring, Smith has emerged as one of the team's top targets. During Saturday's scrimmage, he had three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown.

Like many young players making the transition from high school to college, Smith said the speed of the game has been the biggest change for him.

"I think in high school it's more based about pure talent," he said. "Once you get to this level where everybody's good, you kind of have to out-smart your opponent." Receivers coach Bryan Bossard said that's one of the things he's stressing the most during practice. He said while Smith has an incredible amount of upside, he still has more to do if he wants to be the best he can be.

"Overall he's getting more confidence in himself within the offense. The more [young players] know about the offense, the faster they play. I think the things that [Smith] knows, he's doing very well. He has made some plays. But he's got to have a great summer. He's got to work hard to understand the offense and play faster. You've got to play fast in this league."

Luckily for Smith, he's one of the fastest players on the team. But in the college game with so much speed and talent, the right mindset is key.

Bossard said Smith needs to focus on the things he's best at and not try to be a different type of player. Still, he said Smith could do a better job with his blocking and overall physicality.

"You've got to understand what your assets are and what they're not," Bossard said. "He has very good feet and very good hands and he's got to use that. I'm pleased with where he's at, but he has to continue to improve."

Smith said he'd like to use those strengths to his advantage in whatever spot he can. Aside from playing receiver, he said, he's going to return punts. Smith said he had some advice to give to Hale and Saddler.

"The biggest thing I told them was to get in the playbook early and give yourself a chance to play," he said. "I think they got a lot to bring to the table."

And so far, Smith has shown he has a lot to bring as well. During Tuesday's practice, he took reps with the first-team offense for the first time in a four-receiver set. Smith earned that right by practicing hard and improving every day.

"That's what Aaron had to do," Bossard said. "Right now, at practice thirteen, we're better than we were at practice one."

And after three weeks of hard work, so is Smith.

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