LEXINGTON — Matt Smith has always been the student during his Kentucky football career.
The senior center has learned from offensive line coach Mike Summers and former teammates. However, this spring he’s actually doing double duty as a teacher himself.
First, he has three new starters — Darrian Miller, Zach West and Kevin Mitchell — on the offensive line with him and guard Larry Warford, an all-Southeastern Conference performer.
“It is going well so far. It is a little bit different with so many new guys up front and on the offense as a whole. We have changed a few things around as a whole offense and it is working to our advantage so far. We have been making progress, but still have a way to go,” said Smith. “It is hard with new guys around you, but coach Summers teaches those guys to know what they are doing off what I¿call out there.
“As long as I¿know what I¿am doing, and I¿have been here five years, so it is all pretty easy to me on calls. As long as they listen to me on what I¿am calling, and I¿help them out and Larry Warford does the same thing, they will understand and pick up on their own. That is exactly the way it was when I started playing center and was getting some playing time. I was relying on my guards to tell me what to do. But last year and especially this year, it is all on me now and I am ready to take that role and be the leader for those guys up front.”
However, he’s also teaching — literally teaching. He has missed practice two days a week most of the time to teach at Beaumont Middle School. He’ll do his full-time student teaching a year from now when he’s done with football.
“It is a different experience. I am doing seventh and eighth grade. It has been good for me in the classroom and has helped being a part of football and always sort of being that role model that kids always looked up to and just being able to talk to media and other people has given me good communications skills,” Smith said. “ I am able to fit right in and jumped right in. Even though it is just a start of things, I am feeling pretty comfortable.”
He jokes he has “not seen many discipline problems” because of his size and athletic prowess.
“The students talk to me outside of class. It took them a while to realize I played football. Once someone figured it out or a teacher told them or something, they were all asking me about it. It is good fun. They don’t disturb class asking me things, so that is good,” he said.
He does worry that he has disturbed the offensive line’s continuity by having to miss practice so often.
“They are making great progress, even some guys that have not been around it as long. Guys like Shaquille Love and Teven Eatmon-Nared are both making huge progress in the spring and doing great things,” Smith said. “It is all coming down to technique things, but they are getting the idea and as long as they keep thinking and trying, they will be fine.
“But it is kind of a big deal for me to miss practice because of when I¿am gone Larry is playing center and they are switching Zach to the other guard. It would be better if I could be in there for those extra five practices just to have some consistency, but with academics, it comes first. I have to take care of that so I can be out here on the field. I¿think everybody is handling it pretty well for the most part. Coach Summers always joked with me that if I could ever miss a day of class to be out here, he would have been fine with that.
“And it was tough and weird only having two practices a week at the end of the week and then basically having the whole week off. I know we have the whole summer and then camp to figure this stuff out, but it was weird.”
Smith and his teammates will showcase what they have done this spring in the annual Blue-White Game Saturday night at 6 in Commonwealth Stadium. Smith thinks fans might be surprised by the offense they see.
“We will be fine. We have to start clicking as an offense. We are all kind of trying to do what we need to do ourselves, but a as soon as we get together and make a whole offense out of it we will be fine. We’re going to be a lot better than people think,” Smith said.