Alfonso Smith is usually a demon in the spring. As a redshirt freshman, he led all rushers with 97 yards in the Blue-White Game, and he racked up 170 yards on 20 carries in last year's game.
Smith's spring success has never quite led to him becoming the University of Kentucky's No. 1 running back. For one, he's been part of a crowded backfield for most of his UK career and often has had to defer to Rafael Little and Tony Dixon. Nagging injuries haven't helped, either.
This fall will be Smith's last go-round, and he'd like nothing better than to finally seize control of the feature-back role.
"I feel like it's my time," Smith said. "I'm so anxious, I have to calm down so I don't put too much pressure on myself. I want to be that guy and help the team, but I have to get in my rhythm."
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The odds are in Smith's favor. The other two veteran backs in the race both face questions coming into the fall. Derrick Locke is coming off knee surgery while Moncell Allen still has some classroom work to do to ensure his eligibility for next season.
And while UK signed three backs, offensive coordinator Joker Phillips pointed out that it's unlikely that a true freshman would be able to come in and beat out a veteran like Smith.
"Alfonso deserves to be the starter as long as he continues to work, which I know he will," Phillips said.
Smith said he's been through enough to know not to take anything for granted.
"I've waited it out and been through a lot of stressful times here and some good times; I wouldn't trade it for anything," Smith said. "But at the same time I've got to keep it in my mind that it's not going to be handed to me. I've got to work for it. I've got to prove it to myself that I can be that No. 1 guy. I've got to prove that I can go in against the Floridas and Tennessees and Alabamas and get 20 carries a game and come out healthy for the next game."
Smith has had a productive off-season. In addition to adding 8-10 pounds of additional muscle, he'll graduate in four years next month with a degree in agricultural communications, which will make him the first college graduate in his family. Smith said he tried to get ahead during his redshirt year and took summer courses every year.
"It's just about being focused and dedicated," Smith said.
Smith has shown flashes of go-to capability and hopes that same dedication and focus will produce results his senior year. As a redshirt freshman in 2006, he stepped in for an injured Little and ran for 92 yards in a pivotal win at Mississippi State. And his pass-catching skills have come a long way, as he showed with a 71-yard TD reception in a key win over Arkansas last fall.
"Whenever we've called on him, he's produced," Phillips said. "It's been on a week-to-week basis in the past, but now we're counting on him to produce for 12 weeks."