Opportunity to be a Buckeye completes turnaround for Smith
By Rob Ogden
Sometimes the path that leads you furthest away is the one that brings you closest to home.
Photo by Dan Harker
Just ask wide receiver Corey Smith. The Akron native comes to Ohio State by way of East Mississippi Community College, his second junior college stop after a turbulent high school career ended with him dropping out.
It was there, in Scooba Miss., where Smith said he got his life back on track.
“At first, (going to a junior college) hurt me. I didn't understand why," Smith said. "I wanted to know the reasons why. I kept asking why. But I had a long talk with my coach and he just let me know that God had a plan, and my plan is to go junior college.
“It was a blessing. … I learned that you've got to have patience. You've got to have patience. You've got to take advantage of every opportunity you've got. Don't take anything for granted.”
The 'why' behind Smith's juco journey can be traced back to the early part of his high school career.
After attending Barberton High School as a freshman, Smith was expelled from the school as a sophomore.
The next academic year, Smith enrolled at Akron Buchtel High School as a sophomore, and played two football seasons in what the school then believed to be Smith's sophomore and junior seasons. By this time, Smith was drawing interest from big-time college programs, and committed to play for Tennessee.
However that plan would shortly go awry. According to a May, 2011 report from the Akron Beacon Journal, it was only when an academic and compliance volunteer did a little digging into Smith's past that the school discovered that Smith had played two seasons at Barberton and two seasons at Buchtel, exhausting all of his athletic eligibility.
A senior academically, but ineligible to play football, Smith dropped out of high school, earned his GED, and enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College in Michigan, where he planned to play for two years before moving on to Tennessee.
“I didn't think about college at all my first year in high school," Smith said. "I didn't think about nothing. My grades were terrible."
But Smith started to turn things around at Grand Rapids, and picked up his grades. His team went 10-0 during the regular season and Smith was only one year away from moving on to Tennessee.
And then abruptly, amid scandal, Grand Rapids cut the school's 80-year-old football program.
Displaced again, Smith moved on to East Mississippi, and took with him a new determination.
Corey Smith at East Mississippi
Photo courtesy of East Mississippi Community College
"Corey was eager to get a fresh start," said East Mississippi offensive coordinator and receivers coach Marcus Wood. "He was willing to work. He was maturing and he came in here with a good attitude."
With his new school and his new outlook, Smith again began to attract offers from big-time programs.
In his only season with East Mississippi, Smith led the Lions with 51 receptions for 733 yards and nine touchdowns.
He became a more complete player, and became a team leader, Wood said.
"I think he was in the process of maturing when he got here," he said. "We're pretty structured with what we do, from a standpoint of breakfast checks, to curfew. Here, he was in a system where expectations were high."
Wood said Smith's family would check in every couple weeks to see how Smith was doing.
"They wanted to see what his grades were like, how he was doing in and out of the classroom. They were a lot more concerned with his off-the-field stuff, but he did well. He didn't have problems here for us."
After Tennessee went through a coaching change, Smith de-committed from the Volunteers and began looking around again.
“I was in contact with a lot of coaches throughout the whole time," he said. "Certain colleges wanted me to graduate in December, and some would have taken me in the summer."
Smith pledged to nearby Mississippi State in December of last year, but little more than a month later, after a visit to Columbus, he switched his commitment to Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.
Immediately, Meyer began to question Smith about his past and his future.
"Not too many people knew who I was other than the player I was on the field except Coach Meyer," Smith said. "He wanted to know why certain things happened, how they happened, what do I want to do after college, was I ready for this opportunity. He just hit me with everything.
“He just let me know that if I came here and did everything the right way and lived my life right, that he was going to be in my corner and I was going to get a degree from The Ohio State University.”
But Smith wants to do more than just get his degree – he wants to play.
Wood believes he can do that, and sooner rather than later.
"For Ohio State to come here, it's a long way to go for them to take a guy, I think it shows they've got a lot of confidence in his ability," Wood said.
Wood said Smith's ball skills could be a huge asset for the Buckeyes.
"His hands and his ability to elevate and go get a high ball. He is crisp with his routes, he got better while he was here with that," Wood said. "When that ball's in the air, he wants to win it. He wants that ball and he does a good job fighting for it."
With such a crowded depth chart at wideout, receivers coach Zach Smith said the days of practice leading up to game day will determine where the junior lands in that rotation.
But even if Smith has to wait his turn to get on the field, he has already learned his lesson in patience.
"I just come out and take it day-by-day and contribute and do things for my team. Just help them out as much as I can," Smith said. "I think Coach Meyer understands that it's going to take time for me to really get to read the zones and all of that type of stuff."
For Smith, the opportunity to play FBS college football has been a long-time coming – so long, that he said it still hasn't really sunk in.
"I made a couple of bad decisions early in my high school career. I didn't do things the right way, but I ended up getting back on track an getting my grades and everything together and turned my life around.
“It still seems unreal now because I haven't played a game, but when we take the field on August 31st, it's probably all going to hit me."
Wood said Smith's decision to go back to Ohio was the obvious choice.
"With coach Meyer and the success they're having, I mean, it's hard to pass on that type of offer," Wood said, especially when it means going back home.
"He's been down different roads and has worked his way back. His work ethic and his attitude really affected him and where he is now."
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