Redemption game for Smith

Redemption game for Smith

During fall camp, Richard Smith impressed the coaches enough to earn a starting spot. However, in the early stages of the season, the wide receiver struggled mightily, eventually losing his first team role and seeing less and less snaps each contest. In last week's 55-21 win over Washington State the sophomore surprised with 79 yards on three receptions including a 51-yard TD reception.

The Long Beach (Calif.) Poly standout was nationally ranked as the No. 39 wide receiver in the 2013 recruiting class. In the 2012 season, Richard Smith was one of the standout true freshmen for Arizona State as he collected 14 receptions, averaging 10.1 yards a catch and scoring two touchdowns.

A season in which Smith was supposed to be one of the focal points of the ASU offense had quickly turned into the proverbial sophomore slump. A string of games where Smith repeatedly dropped balls figuratively and literally, including a late game fumble that may have just sealed the fate of close contest in the loss to Notre Dame, naturally drew a plethora of criticism let alone deflated his confidence.

Smith took a step back and grounded himself. Looking to his family back in California for support.

"I had talked to my mom and a couple people back at home and they just told me to relax and to just keep God in me," Smith said. "I just took time out and had some me time and just came back to who I really am and just made sure I go back to how I want to play."

Richard Smith's reversal of fortune was manifested on Halloween night in near freezing temperatures in Pullman. With top receivers D.J. Foster and Jaelen Strong less than 100 percent healthy that game, Smith was able to more than just help shoulder the load as his 79 receiving yards marked a team-high in a winning effort. In just that game he more than doubled his 12.8 yards a catch in the 2013 season, averaging 26.3 yards that night.

"I just felt confident going to the game because I had a good week of practice," Smith commented, "and I just had a strong mindset to go in and do good."

One of the biggest plays of the game was his 51-yard touchdown reception, a play which was good enough to make ESPN's SportsCenter Top 10 plays that night.

"It was my first shot of the year," Smith said. "I had it in my mind that I was coming down with this ball no matter what it takes."

Indeed, that touchdown reception was anything but mundane, as Washington States' Damante Horton, who had four interceptions coming into the ASU contest, provided extreme tight coverage (albeit being flagged for pass interference in the process), and the play saw Smith bobble the ball a couple of times yet show enough concentration to come down with the catch and score.

"I just focused on the ball," Smith recalled. "I just made sure that if it's tipped or not I'm coming down with the ball so I just grabbed it out of the air before he could grab it in the end zone."

Smith, who wasn't able to gain all that much experience last year, attributes his shaky 2013 start to his inexperience and a healthy dose of enthusiasm for his sophomore season.

"I probably got a little too excited with all the hype and pressure coming out and starting as a true sophomore," Smith admitted. "I took my mind off what I really had in mind."

Averaging 46.8 points per game and over 50 points a game in each of their last four Pac-12 contests, the Arizona State offense has been extremely impressive and Smith is happy that last week he was able to provide a more meaningful contribution than other games.

"We all have our roles and hope that our receivers can hold it together, so we just keep pushing forward," said Smith. "It's great; this offense keeps the defense off balance."

Time will tell if Smith's turnaround exhibited last week will continue the rest of the year. Either way, he and teammates have put that dominating win behind them and have been locked in their preparations for another road game, this time against Pac-12 South foe Utah.

"I pray it is, so I just keep moving forward from that," Smith stated in regards to last game being a turning point for him. "We keep the focus and our goal is to be rose bowl champs so we are pushing everyday and just keep on working."

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