West Virginia's Geno Smith putting in hard work during the offseason

By Bryan Fischer | Blogger

REDONDO BEACH, Calif. -- The offseason is typically a time for football players to take a little time off from the game of football, relax a little and squeeze in some work to prepare themselves for the season. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith didn't get the memo on doing the first two things this summer though, preferring to put maximum effort into working out this year to make the leap from very good to great signal-caller in 2012.

"Media day is approaching so I have to get ready for that," Smith conceded. "But it's good to be out here and get some work in before."

'Out here' is referring to the Elite 11, a competition pitting 25 of the top high school quarterbacks from the class of 2013 against each other at a Southern California camp. Last week Smith spent several days at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana picking up tips from NFL and college coaches -- as well as the Manning brothers, of course -- and he is returning the favor for five days at the Elite 11 as one of six college counselors tutoring the next wave of college stars. It's a familiar setting for the Mountaineers' star player as he passed through the doors of the camp when he was a rising senior in high school.

"It's cool, I was one of the guys out here in 2008 and now I'm a counselor," Smith said. "It's pretty much the same thing for me because I'm trying to get work in, only now I'm doing a little bit more coaching.

"I learned so much here, pretty much everything I do now, from footwork to drills that I work on when I got back home. Just being a diligent film guy too. All of the things (the coaches) talk about, I listened to and it paid off."

Florida State's EJ Manuel, Georgia's Aaron Murray, USC's Matt Barkley, N.C. State's Mike Glennon and SMU's Garrett Gilbert are also filling the role of mentors to recruits just as Smith is. For the West Virginia quarterback, hanging out with the kids that were once in his shoes is a chance to let them in on the secret to doing well not only at the Elite 11 but as a field general in college.

"We have great coaches out here so the only thing I can teach them is to work hard," he said. "They've got to take it all in, soak it up and be a sponge out here to try and take as much information as possible back to high school."

Smith has been tabbed by some as one of several Heisman Trophy favorites entering into the season and it's not hard to see why after throwing for a career-high 4,385 yards and 31 touchdowns last year. Coach Dana Holgorsen's offense figures to be even more explosive with another offseason to get familiar with it and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin returning as Smith's top targets in the passing game.

"Work, work, work, that's all we can do" Smith said. "We know we have a big target on our backs, especially going into a new conference and getting all this hype. I'm pretty sure the coaches don't like that at all. We have to come in ready to get everyone's best and we have our A game ready for every game.

"The thing I want to work on is being consistent. One thing I think we did was came out slow in a lot of games. Eventually we got it right but the thing I think we need to do better at is come out fast and leave no bullets in the chamber.

Following the record-setting Orange Bowl performance that was the exclamation point on a contentious departure from the Big East, confidence is running high in the Mountaineers even as they transition to the much tougher Big 12. Smith was tabbed as the conference's preseason offensive player of the year by the media and is well aware that the accolades being heaped upon him in August don't mean much when defensive linemen start flying at him in September.

"It's nice but I've learned at this point that rankings don't mean much," he said. "That makes the pressure bigger, puts a bigger target on my back and that's why I'm out here throwing. I'm not taking this lightly, I'm using it as a mechanism to get ready for the season."

The 70-33 win over Clemson in January has changed the perception of West Virginia in numerous ways, from big billboards along the highway to the camaraderie of the locker room, but Smith isn't dwelling on the past. Though you'd think that he would be riding the momentum from the performance it's clear in talking to him that he is looking forward in 2012 and not in the rearview mirror.

"You can't use it, we have to move on from it," he said. "It's one game. It was a great game but we're a long ways from that. Now it's about getting ready for the Big 12 and for Marshall the first game, making sure we have our bodies and our minds right."

For Smith at least, there's no question he has both on the right track.

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