Smith aiming for Sanders' single-season, Dayne's career rushing records
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Kevin Smith's sensational junior season at the University of Central Florida won't be his last. The All-American, who's closing in on Barry Sanders' single-season rushing record, said Tuesday he will return for his senior year.
"I have a lot of things that I want to work on, for me," Smith said. "I think before I enter a business where you're discussing money and your life's going to change, I want to be bigger, faster, stronger. I want to be at the top of my athletic ability before I go on to a field like that."
Smith has run for 2,448 yards, 180 short of the NCAA record Sanders set in 1989. Smith has a chance to catch Sanders in the Liberty Bowl against Mississippi State on Dec. 28.
UCF coach George O'Leary, a former NFL defensive coordinator, had vowed to work his old pro contacts for a realistic look at where Smith would go. Smith promised to rely heavily on his advice, and apparently did. Despite some predictions Smith could be selected in the first round, O'Leary said low-second to fourth round was more realistic.
"It's a crapshoot, really," O'Leary said. "Normally people don't go after running backs in that first round unless they're exceptional. And there's probably one or two that may do it, but that's 32 teams making decisions."
Smith said he also wasn't trying to anticipate whether other top underclassmen rushers such as Arkansas' Darren McFadden would be draft competition.
"It's about me getting better," Smith said. "If I'm going to go out there and go to the NFL, where my life is on the line and dealing with money, why should I sell myself short? Because I ran for 2,000 yards?"
Smith said he took out an injury insurance policy before the Dec. 1 Conference USA championship game, in which he ran for 284 yards. He declined to give specifics, but said the amount could increase next year if he got hurt and ruined his pro chances.
Smith, from Miami, said he consulted most with his mother -- she wanted him to earn a degree, as does he. Smith also wants to leave a more lasting mark on UCF, a young program trying to crack the ranks of marquee schools.
"I want to have a chance to lead my team," Smith said. "I want them to say, 'When Kevin was a senior, this is what he got out of this group.' That's what I want."
Smith's profile rose tremendously after the nationally televised C-USA championship performance, but the junior doesn't believe he has peaked. Even if he doesn't break Sanders' record, he should challenge former Wisconsin back Ron Dayne's Division I career rushing record of 6,397 yards next season. Smith is 1,837 yards short.
"A lot of people say, 'You ran for 2,400 yards this year, what else could you do?' " Smith said. "I think if I run for 1,800 and be the all-time leading rusher, will my stock rise or fall for next year?"
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press