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Geno's counting on his critics

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - A couple of days ago Geno Smith whipped out his cell phone or his iPad or whatever it is he uses to communicate these days and took to Twitter.Just want to thank all those so called "experts" who say I can't be an NFL QB. Thursday will be a special day but the work has only begunA bit snarky? Perhaps sarcastic or facetious?Well, no. Not really.For Smith it was genuine.He really does appreciate it.Yes, even the words of Nolan Nawrocki, the Pro Football Weekly writer whose review of Smith was so scathing that Sports Illustrated used the choicest of his words not only as the premise for a story, but as the backdrop for the artwork that went with it."A gimmick, overhyped product of the system.''"Lacking football savvy [and] work habits.''"Not committed or focused.'' "Will be overdrafted.''Smith's initial reaction? Well, he and Jake Spavital, who coached him at West Virginia the last two years, laughed about it. A part of Smith also had to be upset, perhaps even enraged, although he never really showed it.And here's the reason: It might have been the best thing that could have happened.I know this because last October I had one of those very rare opportunities to get Smith alone for a few minutes. Put him in front of a camera - or, in his case, usually a bunch of cameras - and questions tend to be answered in cliches. He always said the right things, but they were the right things he was trained to say.I got him alone because over the years one of the things that I'd learned about Smith was that he loved the underdog role. He relished anyone telling him or believing that he couldn't do something, and I wanted to know how he felt at that time.
If you recall, in early October last year, Smith was the hottest commodity in all of college football. Two weeks before I talked to him he'd thrown for 656 yards and more touchdowns (eight) than incompletions (six) against Baylor. A week later he threw four touchdowns and no interceptions in a win at Texas. He'd yet to throw a pick and had 24 touchdowns. His team was unbeaten and ranked No. 5 in the nation.At that point, no one had anything bad to say about Geno Smith, and I wanted to know where the fire was going to come from then."Well, that's a good question, I suppose,'' he said one night in the Puskar Center. "But someone's always going to criticize you. And if I don't hear it, I'll just make something up.''Well, how'd that work out? Not well.There were, of course, extenuating circumstances. All that happened to Smith's football team over the course of the next few months was not his fault. But the fact of the matter is, from that point WVU went 2-6. He was into his fifth game after that before he matched the eight touchdowns he'd thrown against Baylor. The interceptions never came in droves, but the guy who threw 25 touchdowns before his first pick threw 17 TDs against six interceptions the rest of the way.And yes, he was criticized. But he was also overwhelmed by an awful defense and an injured Stedman Bailey and sheer momentum - the wrong kind.
An inner fire will only take one so far.Now, though, is a fresh start. A few months ago, some had Smith as the top pick in the NFL draft that begins tonight in New York. That couldn't have been good for his motivational psyche.But in the weeks since then, as the draft has been overanalyzed as always, Smith's stock has plummeted, then soared, then plummeted again, then soared again. Where it is now is anyone's guess. He could seemingly be off the board as early as the first few picks or languishing well into the second round.If you think you have it figured out, fine. But you're just throwing darts at a (draft) board, and if you're lucky enough to call it right then you were, well, lucky.Know this, though: The team that drafts Smith might want to go to Nawrocki or another of his ilk and put them on the payroll."I don't know what it is, but I need that criticism,'' Smith said that night in October. "I don't know what I'd do if everyone loved me and the way I play. I've always been like that, I think. I need to have a goal and one of my biggest has always been to prove somebody wrong.''Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or or follow him at  
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