Football Fall Camp Feature: Ito Smith
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- Comparisons sometimes are good things.
When you have been compared for most of your collegiate career to your school's all-time leading rusher, well, that is a great thing. This is especially true when you look to join him at the top of the school's career rushing chart in your final season.
Those comparisons have come in the fashion of wearing the same number, sharing the same body type and making defenders miss like nobody's business, just like his predecessor did, Damion Fletcher, almost a decade ago with great speed and an elusiveness that makes defenders miss regularly.
That's senior Ito Smith from Mobile, Ala., who has drawn that association with the former Golden Eagle great in Fletcher, who amassed 5,302 rushing yards becoming just one of eight Division I Football Bowl Subdivision players to rush for over 1,000 yards in all four seasons.
For Smith, he has heard these comparisons over his three previous years with the program and it flatters him to be held in such high regard with that kind of company.
"Yeah a lot," said Smith on the many times he has heard the comparisons with Fletcher. "We have the same number too, so there is some obvious comparison. People say we are both explosive and hit the holes well. He's a great runner and to be put in the same category as him, and all the rest of the greats, is an honor."
While Smith will need almost 2,200 rushing to catch Fletcher in his final campaign, he still can finish his career by being one of three Golden Eagles to rush for at least 1,000 yards in three different seasons, with Derrick Nix being the other. Entering 2017, Smith ranks fourth on the career chart for rushing at the school with 3,123 yards.
And while the comparisons are many, there are some differences as well. One being Smith's keen ability to also catch the football.
Smith enjoys 100 career receptions for 1,050 yards over 39 games. That versatility moves him closer to his own small prestigious list of FBS players -- nine in all heading into this season - that have registered at least 4,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in their careers.
"It's great to be able to be versatile," said Smith. "The coaches can use you in more than one way. Teams have to respect that and that's something I've always prided myself on - catching the ball. I'm always staying after practice trying to run routes and get better."
That type of work ethic has fueled Smith to get better and his desire to continue to improve his game each and every day.
"I always want to improve," said Smith on Friday of the first full week of fall camp. "Coach Hopson tells us all the time that when you stop trying to improve, you're basically done. You have a team still trying to get better every day, so that's why I go out every day and try to get better - whether it's being explosive, making guys miss in the open field, catching balls out of the backfield or running great routes."
Smith began his development early in his career with his desire to be pushed to get better by older players in the program, including one that just enjoyed his first season for the Oakland Raiders in the National Football League.
"I remember my freshman and sophomore year, Jalen [Richard] and I went out every day and competed," said Smith. "That made me a lot better."
In fact, the duo of Smith and Richard each racked up over 1,000 yards rushing in 2015, marking the first time that has happened at the school since the 1981 campaign.
Those teammates, like Richard, helped Smith enjoy his time on the Hattiesburg campus and also assisted in his desire to achieve great things during his collegiate career.
"I've just been around a bunch of great guys," said Smith. "The offensive line and coaches have both done a great job since I've been here. They've given me the ball and put me in good position to use my abilities. It's been a great opportunity."
Now Smith sets his sights on his final season and looks to improve on his numbers from his first three years. When his collegiate career ends just four short months from now, how does he want Golden Eagle fans to remember him from his time here.
"That he was a hard worker and went out every Saturday, or whenever the game was, and played his tail off and gave it all he had," said Smith. "And that he had heart."
Certainly no one will question that.
Season tickets, flex plans, group and single-game tickets for the 2017 Golden Eagle home season are still available and can be purchased by going online at SouthernMissTickets.com, by calling 1-800-844-TICK (8425) or by visiting the Pat Ferlise Ticket Office, weekdays, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Discounts are available for Southern Miss faculty and staff, senior citizens, military personnel, and recent Southern Miss graduates. The Golden Eagles open the 2017 season at home on Saturday, Sept. 2, at 3 p.m. against SEC opponent Kentucky.
Previous Fall Camp Features:
Aug. 31 - Julian Allen
July 1 - Tim Billings
July 2 - LaDarius Harris
July 3 - Equipment Staff