The narrative on Ball State wide receiver Jamill Smith often takes one of a couple directions. In most cases, the senior is painted as a hometown hero who stayed in his native Muncie to walk on and strap on the pads for the Ball State Cardinals. If the national attention creators don't take that tack, then the second-most popular narrative is his size. And at only 5'8" tall, Smith does turn a few heads when he lines up opposite taller and bigger defensive backs. Both narratives are notable, both are story worthy, neither captures the skill and talent of Smith nor his impact on the field for the Cardinals.
Smith's BSU career has been the epitome of up and down, as most in this senior class could say. Smith's first year on campus (a redshirt season) was 2009, just a year after the Cardinals threatened to bust the BCS and capped off a 12-0 regular season. 2009 and 2010 (Smith's first year on the field) were forgettable by most every standard including Smith's statistical impact on the Cardinals. One catch for -5 yards and 17 punt returns for a pedestrian 8.6 average was his freshman stat line. Hard to imagine Smith would go on to accolades like the 2011 Ball State Special Teams Award, a 2011 All-MAC Second Team selection, a 2012 Ball State Special Teams Award, a 2012 All-MAC Third Team selection for returns and a 2012 All-MAC First Team selection for WR. As has been the case in Muncie recently, enter Pete Lembo and success comes with him.
In Lembo's first year at the helm and with Smith taking part in the Rich Skrosky offensive experience, his numbers skyrocketed on the receiving end. 40 catches for 422 yards and 3 TDs were coupled with kick returns and punt returns for 1045 all purpose yards. Fans were pleased, Smith was thriving, and 2012 was even better. Smith exploded for 1757 all purpose yards, and at nearly 150 per game, that's noticeable. His receptions increased, his yards increased and his TDs doubled. His return averages increased despite considerably higher numbers of attempts. And just for good measure, he threw his first collegiate career touchdown pass against in-state rival Indiana. That play alone cemented Smith as a fan favorite. The statistical dominance was just icing on the cake.
The thing most noticeable about Smith is his blazing speed without reckless abandon. Speedsters throughout the land just assume they can outrun the coverage, outrun the defense, and do it all themselves. Smith, on the other hand, like so many cogs in the Lembo offensive spoke, know that it is a truly team effort. Watch Smith and you'll see a player who lets the offense come to him, doesn't force the issue or break off a route to beat the defense over the top. Though his top gear speed opens up opportunities all over the place.
In the MAC, it's rare to have a receiver with Smith's speed. To have him with a running mate in the receiving corps in Willie Snead with equal speed creates match-up nightmares for the defensive coordinators in the conference. If you peel safeties down to double the outside threats then you've now left yourself wide open on a deep seem route or a deep post route, and Zane Fakes is happy to capitalize.
That match-up quandary and unusual-for-the-MAC speed means 2013 looks to be another successful year for Smith as he continues to evolve into a speedy playmaker on the outside and a viable threat to put the "special" in special teams at a moment's notice. The difference between his 2013 campaign and those before it though is that Smith must do it now with a fair bit of attention. Aside from being ranked #31 in this countdown, he's also on the 2013 Paul Hornung Award Watch List for the nation's most versatile player. The one thing Ball State fans can take solace in though is knowing Smith is a threat and stopping him from being one are two completely different things.
Read more about Ball State athletics at Over The Pylon.