Credit Larry Smith for being an optimist, even if he is a bit nitpicky.
The Vanderbilt quarterback can’t lie and say he feels perfect after a hamstring tear prematurely ended his 2009 season last Halloween, but he’s close to it.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be 100 percent again…but 98, 99 percent,” Smith said. “I think I’m in the best condition I’ve ever been in since I’ve been up here though, for real.”
Smith, a redshirt junior with 10 career starts, will enter preseason camp competing with redshirt senior Jared Funk, junior transfer Jordan Rodgers and redshirt freshman Charlie Goro for the starting job this fall. Smith is the only one of the contenders with starting experience at Vanderbilt. Since the 2009 season ended prematurely, Smith as accepted a greater leadership role for the Commodore offense, demanding as much from his receivers as he does from the 99 percent of himself that feels healthy.
Junior receiver Udom Umoh can testify to that.
“He’s always playing gritty, always wants to win,” Umoh said. “This year I see him asserting himself more on the field and with the players, getting on me for any little thing I do wrong. I listen to him. Everybody’s listening to him.” Count sophomore receiver John Cole among them.
“We’ve been working out extremely hard this summer,” Cole said. “We’re both looking for big years, and I expect him to step into a leadership role for the team and have a big year.”
The injury put Smith on the bench but nevertheless steeled his resolve.
“It was frustrating being on the sidelines, not being able to help my teammates out,” Smith said. “It motivated me pretty much for this whole offseason, my conditioning, my legs and trying to improve in every facet of the game, whether it’s throwing, learning the offense, and just being an overall better leader.
“Repetitions, that’s the main thing. Improve timing, stuff like that.”
He knows better than anyone that the passing attack wasn’t up to snuff last season. Smith completed only 106-227 passes (46.7%) last season, with four touchdowns and seven interceptions.
“The most important thing is just the experience level you gain from playing a year in the SEC,” Cole said. “Quarterback’s a difficult position for anybody. That’s still good experience for him to gain and help him in the future.”
Smith may have limped off the field nearly nine months ago, but he nevertheless hopes to pick up where he left off. His final two games, he completed 18-35 passes for 159 yards and one touchdown with no turnovers. Even his last play was a good albeit painful one, a 35-yard rush that led to a touchdown against Georgia Tech but also a season-ending injury.
He couldn’t finish what he started that night, but he intends to now.
“We know how frustrating last year was and we don’t want to repeat that again,” Smith said. “So we just come out here and take it one day at a time and try to improve each and every day.”