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Deion Smith aiming for breakout season with CU Buffs

Running back showed plenty of potential in backup role last season

BOULDER, CO, April 2, 2022: Running back, Deion Smith, during the April 2, 2022 University of Colorado Boulder football practice. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer)

As a senior at Second Baptist High School in Houston in 2017, Deion Smith rushed for a whopping 362 yards and four touchdowns in one game.

Four years into his college career at Colorado, Smith has yet to gain as many yards, combined, as he did that night. Yet, as the 6-foot, 190-pound running back prepares for his fifth year at CU, he believes he shouldn’t be forgotten as a potential weapon in the Buffaloes’ offense.

“I’m ready to show the world because honestly I feel like in my time here I have yet to really just show everyone what I have,” he said this week. “My coaches know; (running backs coach Darian) Hagan knows; my fellow teammates and running backs know, but from the outside looking in nobody really knows Deion Smith.”

Since arriving in Boulder in the summer of 2018, Smith has patiently waited his turn while dealing with some ups and downs.

A knee injury limited him to five games as a senior at Second Baptist and then he redshirted at CU in 2018. As a backup to Alex Fontenot – now a senior – in 2019, Smith gained 68 yards on 23 carries.

Then, a knee injury in the summer of 2020 caused him to miss that entire season.

Healthy again last year, Smith was behind Jarek Broussard and Fontenot on the depth chart, but still posted 192 yards and two touchdowns on 53 carries in his most extensive playing time in four years. Although his role was limited, Smith said last year was big for him mentally to get into a groove again.

“Honestly, it felt good to me just because coming off the injury and getting back on the field and actually playing football is a difference from being on a sideline and being in meetings,” he said. “I can go to all these team events (when injured) but me not being on the field doesn’t feel the same, so last season for me felt like a stepping stone. I got on the field. I was able to do a little bit. Now let me use that same momentum and push it forward and get me to fall.

“Now it’s time to really just put it all together.”

Since the end of last season, Broussard has transferred to Michigan State and former four-star recruit Ashaad Clayton has transferred to Tulane. Fontenot is now a sixth-year senior and eager to reprove himself after leading the team in rushing in 2019. Like Smith, he missed 2020 with an injury and was behind Broussard last year.

Even with Fontenot still on board and transfer Ramon Jefferson – an FCS All-American from Sam Houston – on his way, Smith is excited about a new opportunity with the Buffs this season.

Smith knows there is an outside perception that the Buffs won’t be as good in the backfield without Broussard and Clayton, but he and the other backs, including bruiser Jayle Stacks, are seizing an opportunity.

“A big thing that happens often is that a lot of people on the outside don’t really know what’s going on in here on a day-to-day basis, so their judgment is what they see on Saturdays every single week,” Smith said. “We’ve got guys like Jayle that y’all didn’t see much of him last year, but inside the room we knew what we had. It’s one of those things to where it’s just like on the outside, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you don’t have any backs.’ But on the inside, we’ve been the exact same. It’s my turn and it’s my turn to show y’all that I’m next.”

Determined to do just that, Smith and Stacks have both stood out this spring. Fontenot was also doing well before an injury sidelined him.

Smith is excited not only about his potential, but that of his fellow backs in an offense now led by first-year coordinator Mike Sanford.

“I feel like spring is going pretty good for us,” Smith said. “The biggest point of focus for us this spring is just getting used to the offense, learning the offense and feeling comfortable with it because you can play football so much faster whenever you know everything and you don’t have to think.

“The biggest thing for me this spring is being fundamentally sound, being consistent, learn the offense. That way, come fall I could just let it all loose. And now it’ll be my time to where, OK, now y’all can see, ‘Oh, who is this No. 20 kid?’”

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