Laray Smith (23) has impressed his coaches early in fall practice with a level of open-field speed that running backs coach Deland McCullough calls "unbelievable."
The freshman running back no one can seem to stop talking about, Smith is 6-feet tall and “hands down the fastest person who walks into this building,” according to Indiana’s third-year coach.
“He can roll,” Wilson said at team media day Monday.
Smith was a Signing Day addition to Indiana’s highly touted 2013 recruiting class, a speedy running back out of Brooklyn (N.Y.) Xaverian who is also a potentially elite track athlete (he will compete in that sport for IU as well).
In signing with Indiana, Smith turned down offers from Syracuse, UConn, Purdue and Tennessee. Oregon was among the most prominent teams showing further interest in the IU freshman, who placed third at the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics in the 400-meter dash.
Now several practices into his first collegiate fall camp, Smith still has plenty to learn about the running back position, according to his coaches, but his natural speed and explosiveness have IU’s stuff buzzing nonetheless.
“Really intrigued with Laray Smith. Very, very fast,” Wilson said. “It’s getting him to know which way to go and hang onto the ball, but it goes really fast.”
Despite losing Daryl Chestnut until the midyear enrollment window because of academic concerns, Indiana is as well stocked at running back as it has been in recent memory.
At Xaverian in Brooklyn, N.Y., Smith was a standout all-purpose back, posting 1,700 total yards and 16 touchdowns in his final two high school seasons.
Stephen Houston (20 rushing touchdowns in the last two seasons), Tevin Coleman and D’Angelo Roberts all return to a rotation that was largely healthy through the offseason and spring. Both Smith and Florida running back Myles Graham, himself more of a between-the-tackles runner, bolster depth and competition at the position, according to running backs coach Deland McCullough.
But in Smith, Indiana appears to have added more of a skillset than a position.
“Laray, he’s a special talent as far as the speed is concerned. We need to harness that and make it productive in our system,” McCullough said. “He might get 10 reps a practice, eight reps a practice in team setting, and two of them are 80-yard runs that no one could have made.”
Smith posted 1,700 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in his final two seasons at Xaverian, and he pulled in four receiving scores as well. He was a two-time all-borough, all-city and all-conference player, he played in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl as a senior and 247Sports ranked him the No. 12 all-purpose back in his class, and a four-star recruit. Indiana grabbed him with a late official visit and that Signing Day decision.
Despite his resume and his gifts, McCullough said Smith still has growing to do at his position, particularly in complementing his exceptional speed with a more well rounded skillset.
Some of that will come with physical maturation, according to McCullough, and some must be soaked in over time.
“He’s slighter built than the other guys, although he’s 190 pounds, just because he’s taller. … He’s not the physical specimen that a Tevin or a Stephen is,” McCullough said, comparing Smith to some of his more seasoned teammates. “I want the speed course; he’s always going to have that. …
“Just giving him the tools to be able to run inside, because he’s gonna have to be able to do that at some point.”
So time will have to serve as Smith’s ally, through the preseason and into the fall. There doesn’t appear to be much pressure on him to contribute right away, with Coleman, Roberts and Houston all in front of him, but his prodigious speed might be hard to keep off of the field somewhere.
For the time being, he’ll keep working on his weaknesses, and dropping jaws at practice.
“That speed is a premium tat I think people will be stunned when they see it,” McCullough said, “because it is a world-class thing to see.
“It is like, ‘Wow, unbelievable.’”