The Florida Gators got a late recruiting gift with lots of Division 1 experience when former All-Mountain West Conference cornerback Ryan Smith transferred in from Utah to play for his old coach. Smith took advantage of a brand new NCAA rule that allows a player that earned a bachelor’s degree and still has eligibility remaining to transfer to another school without sitting out.
Smith made all-conference as a redshirt freshman at Utah but when Coach Urban Meyer left for Florida and took secondary coach Chuck Heater with him to Florida, things changed in Salt Lake City. A new defensive coordinator wanted bigger, more physical corners and that put Smith on the sideline quite a bit. He was prepared to transfer to a Division I-AA or Division II school to play while pursuing his master’s degree when the NCAA passed its new rule. He immediately contacted Meyer at Florida and got the ball rolling on his transfer. Word got out that he would be transferring to Florida about a month before his graduation with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Utah.
He missed the first couple of Florida preseason practices while some SEC and NCAA red tape was cleared up. He used that time on the sidelines watching practice and getting to know his new teammates. Finally on day three the rocky road to Gainesville was done and he was able to practice.
“It has been a hectic month for me,” Smith said. “I am glad to be here and hopefully everything will be great from here on out. The SEC just needed a letter saying that I was admitted in Grad school. My grades weren’t in yet, so once they got the grades and GRE score, it all happened for me.”
Smith is enjoying his new teammates. He knows much is expected of him and that the expectations for the Florida football team are always set very high. From what he has seen so far, he thinks his teammates and coaches are on the same page, united for a common goal.
“The first couple of days I really didn’t know anyone, but the team is real nice and they are just good people,” Smith said. “Everyone has a common goal and I really like the atmosphere.”
Smith has found a level of comfort in his new surroundings. His teammates have adopted him into the Gator family. He knows exactly what Coach Heater expects of him at cornerback. He knows that the defense has all the ingredients to be exceptional and he believes the coaching staff has an achievable plan for success. It’s just a matter of execution for everything to fall into place so the Gators can achieve all their goals.
“I think this defense is really good and has a chance to be great,” Smith said. “At every position we have players and it is just a matter of going out and doing it now. We need to go out here and work hard and work the technique. We have a great scheme and the coaches are going to put us in the right place to make plays.”
In reality, Smith has been coached by defensive backs coach Chuck Heater more than any player on the roster. Smith red-shirted as a true freshman and then played his second year as a starter and all-conference player so his two full years of being coached by Heater is more than anyone else on the squad. Heater is one of the main reasons he chose to finish his college career at Florida.
“[Heater] is a great coach,” Smith said. “When I had him the first year, we had a little trouble before I got to know him. By the end of the season I realized how good of a coach he was and he brought me to a different level as a player. Coming here and knowing the techniques makes it a little easier for me. I know all the techniques he teaches. I just need to practice and polish up.”
This preseason, that polishing has come against some of the best athletes Smith will see all season. The Gators are loaded at wide receiver and they make defending the four wide set very difficult. Practice against these guys can only make the defensive backs better. Smith looks forward to the challenge every day.
“These are some of the best receivers in the nation here, without a doubt,” Smith said. “I told Dallas Baker the other day I want to go against him all the time because I know how good he is and I want to get better. I want to go against all of them.”
At 5-10 and 165 pounds, Ryan Smith isn’t the biggest player out there. He is however very confident and he carries that confidence on the field in the way he plays. In his first two days of practice in Gainesville it was easy to see he knew what he was doing. Smith should be a late coming, but immediate impact for the 2006 season.