Post-grad pigskin: Former Ute Smith joins Florida

Updated: August 8, 2006, 10:46 PM ET
Associated Press

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's depleted secondary got a boost Tuesday when former Utah starter Ryan Smith joined the team.

Smith, who could replace departed cornerback Avery Atkins, is eligible to play this season under new NCAA legislation that allows athletes who graduate and have eligibility remaining to transfer without sitting out a year.

"It was an easy decision once I knew I had the opportunity," Smith said after completing his first practice. "I was ready to play football somewhere else."

Smith started 12 games for the Utes in 2004 under then-coach Urban Meyer and had 44 tackles and an interception. He started the first five games last year, but was replaced in the lineup midway though the season because coach Kyle Whittingham said others were "playing better."

Smith left the Utes after spring practice, saying he was physically and mentally exhausted from the game.

"I think a little time off is what I needed," he said. "It helped me get a little fresher and get me prepared mentally and physically."

Now, he has been reunited with Meyer and could play a big role for Florida.

Atkins was released from his scholarship in late June, a week after he was accused of striking the mother of his 2-month-old child.

Atkins asked for his release before the alleged battery, but Meyer denied the request after talking with family members. Meyer eventually relented.

Smith said he considered transferring long before Atkins' troubles. But he knew it couldn't happen unless he completed his undergraduate degree in the summer.

He did so last week and was accepted to Florida's graduate program in educational leadership. He has two years of eligibility remaining and has high hopes for this season.

"I expect to come in and get a starting job," Smith said. "That's what I want to do, but there's guys here that have been and been playing here. I can't expect to walk in and take a job. I've got to earn it."

Without Atkins, Meyer moved safety Reggie Nelson to cornerback to start opposite seldom-used senior Reggie Lewis.

But Florida's secondary became even thinner Monday, when freshman safety Bryan Thomas had arthroscopic knee surgery. Thomas twisted his knee in practice Sunday, bursting a blood vessel near his anterior cruciate ligament. He will be sidelined four to six weeks.

"We've got the issues that we have," Heater said. "It's a bonus to have a guy who's got college experience. He's played a bunch of games in college football. That's a free-agent signing."

The NCAA approved the graduate-transfer rule in April, ending a one-year waiting period for student-athletes who graduate and want to transfer in football, basketball and hockey.

So far, three prominent football players -- including Smith -- have taken advantage of the change. Offensive lineman Tyler Krieg transferred from Duke to California, and quarterback Richard Kovalcheck transferred from Arizona to Vanderbilt.

Meyer said he initially opposed Smith's proposed transfer, not wanting to take players from another program, but he changed his mind after learning that Smith was going to leave Utah regardless of whether he moved to Gainesville.

"It's really worked out well," Meyer said. "He looked like the same Ryan that I remember."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press