By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
BOULDER, Colo. — Kevin Smith made the same play he’s made a hundred times in his life. Only this time, he was wearing football cleats instead of basketball shoes.
The one-time starting wide receiver, who has been reduced to mostly a special teams player this season, made the play of the game in Washington’s 38-3 win over Colorado on Saturday at Folsom Field.
No, Smith wasn’t on the receiving end of one Keith Price’s five touchdown passes. In fact, he didn’t even take a rep at wide receiver.
But with Washington’s offense falling all over itself in the first half, Smith made a brilliant play on special teams early in the second half that ignited the Husky offense and turned the game into a blowout.
After an offensive pass interference penalty against Austin Seferian-Jenkins halted Washington’s first possession of the third quarter, Smith went about his normal job of being a gunner on the fourth down punt.
But as he was sprinting down the field to cover the punt, he saw the ball bounce off the shoulder of Colorado’s Nelson Spruce and shoot toward the sidelines. If the ball went out of bounds, the Buffaloes would maintain possession.
“I was playing hard,” Smith said. “I saw it hit his shoulder. I knew it was going out of bounds. I just tried to keep it in play and keep it in bounds.” Knowing he probably wasn’t going to be able to recover it himself, Smith reverted to his basketball training. He leaped into the air a foot from the sidelines and grabbed the ball and flipped it back toward the field before it could go out of bounds.
“I was looking at the ball and the sidelines at the same time,” Smith said. “I knew I had enough room.”
The ball eventually would be recovered by teammate Will Shamburger, giving Washington possession on Colorado’s 35-yard line.
With the new life and improved field position, Washington needed just three plays to score a touchdown as Price hit Kasen Williams on a 17-yard touchdown pass.
“Just a huge special teams play by Kevin Smith,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I can’t wait to see the highlights of that play tonight.”
It’s a play you see often in a basketball game. And it’s fitting because basketball is Smith’s first love. He actually didn’t start playing football until midway through his junior season in high school. He was an all-league basketball player and league MVP player at Centennial High in Los Angeles.
“Basketball is in my blood,” Smith said.
Smith hasn’t had the easiest year and half. He suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the days leading up to the Alamo Bowl last December. He tried to come back this season, but wasn’t the same receiver. He tweaked the knee in the second game against LSU and has been basically relegated to special teams. But he’s embraced the reduced role.
“Whatever I can do to help this team win, that’s what I’m going to do,” Smith said.
It’s that type of attitude that makes him one of Sarkisian’s favorites.
“It’s shows that he is just a team guy,” Sarkisian said. “Kevin has done that for us in some of the punt returns or covering teams. I think he exemplifies what this team is about.”
His teammates were lobbying that Smith’s plays should be featured on all the highlight shows.
“That was ridiculous,” said safety Justin Glenn. “I saw the replay, and that’s an ESPN top ten play. To have that awareness, it’s just crazy.”
While there is no debate about Smith’s play being important, there was some debate about his basketball skills.
Smith has often said he’s the best basketball player on the football team.
Price, who was also a standout hoops player, shook his head.
“He’s a pretty good player, but I don’t think he’s better than me,” Price said grinning. “He’s in the top two.”
But if they are in the top two, what about Seferian-Jenkins, who is actually on the UW basketball team.
“I’m not going to debate it,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “Kevin Smith is a really good basketball player. I’m not going to say I’m the best. But I’ve seen him playing in his prime at the IMA and he is really, really good.”