SEATTLE — He might get one or two plays and he might get 20. But the simple fact that Kevin Smith will suit up and step onto the turf of CenturyLink Field for the Washington Huskies in Saturday night’s season opener against San Diego State is an accomplishment for the junior wide receiver.
It was less eight months ago that Smith was excitedly preparing to play in the Alamo Bowl with his teammates in San Antonio. During a routine drill in a light practice, Smith felt a pop in his right knee followed by a sharp pain.
“It’s just something that I did 100 times and that one time it happened,” he said.
And with that his Alamo Bowl was done, and the beginning of this season was jeopardy. Of course, that wasn’t on his mind. He wouldn’t act like his season was done just because his knee was.
“He asked if he can suit up and be on the sidelines with his teammates,” Husky head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “It just tells you what kind of teammate he is and what he brings to the team.”
Technically, Smith sat out spring practice. Though he did little sitting at those practices. Smith was all over the field, encouraging, joking, talking trash and being his usual gregarious self.
This fall the Husky staff worked him back slowly. They didn’t want to rush his recovery even though Smith was clearly ahead of schedule. So on most days, he was clad in a yellow no-contact jersey and forced to be a spectator in team drills. But he was far from a quiet spectator. Every day, he would have wild celebrations for teammate’s touchdowns. He let the defensive backs know when receivers beat them. He ran to every drill and did what he could.
“You’ve got to have a positive thought in your head the whole time,” Smith said. “That’s what I had going into it. That’s me.”
Sarkisian had no complaints with that type of attitude.
“His competitiveness and enthusiasm is so infectious,” he said. “He’s got an unbreakable spirit. Our guys really respond to him. I can’t remember a day where that guy has come out here where he’s having a bad day. He’s just one of the most energized, appreciative, humble human beings.”
But Smith is more than just an advertisement for a positive mental attitude. He has some talent. Last season, he caught 15 passes for 208 yards. He’s big and strong and most importantly he’s experienced — something the wide receiving corps need with James Johnson out for a month with an injury.
In the last few weeks, Smith was allowed into team drills. His reps increased and earlier this week, he found a normal purple No. 8 jersey in his locker instead of the gold one that he’d been sporting.
“That felt good to put that purple jersey on,” Smith said.
Now at a full go in practice, Smith has looked close to his old self. Admittedly, he’s not 100 percent. But he’s close enough to contribute.
“I think Kevin looks great,” Sarkisian said. “He’s had a tremendous return and recovery and rehab. He probably could have been back a little bit earlier than he was. Anytime that you have an injury like that you want to take any precaution, but he just forced himself back on the field and he looks good. His experience is good for us at that position. We expect him to play and we’ll see how he does Saturday night.”
Smith holds no expectations about his role. He knows he’s still coming back.
“Whatever is best for the team,” Smith said.
Smith is still wearing the heavy “stick” knee brace at practice and he plans to wear it for the time being.
“I feel comfortable with it on, so I’m going to wear it no matter what,” he said. “I feel great and the brace has been great with it on.”
But it’s safe to say, no matter the situation, Smith would feel great since he’s out there playing again.
“Wherever I can help the team, I just want to help the team,” he said.
Sarkisian announced via Twitter that cornerback Tre Watson has been awarded a scholarship for this season. Watson is a walk-on transfer from Central Washington. … Wide receiver DiAndre Campbell, who had been wearing a yellow no-contact jersey for an undisclosed injury, was not wearing it on Wednesday’s practice and participated fully. … Tight end Alec Kimble and offensive linemen Jake Eldrenkamp did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.