COLUMBUS — Devin Smith moved to pull himself out of his mangled car when, suddenly, it all went black.
It was 8:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning in June, and the Ohio State receiver’s preparation for his senior season had just taken a chilling detour.
Returning home from a friend’s house in Canton, Smith’s car wandered off the road, flipped, and struck a utility pole, according to the Canton Repository. Smith simply lost control. (The traffic report stated alcohol was suspected as a factor in the crash, but Smith said he “probably had one drink” hours earlier. He tested under the legal limit.)
“It was very scary,” Smith said on Sunday at the Buckeyes’ annual media day. “Once the car had crashed and I opened the door, as soon as I touched to the ground, I fainted.”
When Smith came to, though, he was dazed but all right. His only injuries were a mild concussion and a scraped-up arm.
“I was so happy that I was still here,” he said. “It just made me realize how blessed I really am. I've always told myself that I was blessed. But when it happened, I just sat back and replayed everything that’s happened in my life: all the positive things that have happened, being able to receive a scholarship to play here, and being able to get a chance to hopefully get to the next level. I'm truly blessed.”
If anything, the perspective gained only intensified his urgency for a memorable farewell season.
The Buckeyes are counting on the blistering Smith to headline a cast of receivers that could, at last, provide a consistent vertical threat to their previously bruising offense. Two years after coach Urban Meyer labeled the receivers a “clown show,” assistant Zach Smith said, “It is a battle right now to touch the ball.”
“Two years ago, you went into games like, ‘Oh my gosh, who can we give the ball to?’” said Smith, who coaches the receivers. “Now we're hoping to go into games saying, ‘Oh my gosh, how are we going to get the ball to all of these players?’ It's a much better feeling.”
The candidates to balance an offense that skewed 2:1 toward the run last season include senior Evan Spencer, junior Corey Smith, sophomore Michael Thomas, redshirt freshman and former five-star recruit Jalin Marshall, and freshman Johnnie Dixon. (H-back Dontre Wilson and tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett will also figure prominently.)
Then there is Smith, the Buckeyes’ biggest big-play threat. A state champion high jumper at Massillon Washington who dabbles in his second pastime at OSU — the 6-foot-1, 197-pound Smith finished second in the high jump at last year’s Big Ten outdoor championships with a leap (7 feet, 1/4 inches) that ranked among the top five in school history — his 18 career touchdown catches have averaged a staggering 39.6 yards per play. He is Ohio State’s top returning target with 1,572 career receiving yards.
Yet he remains unfulfilled, particularly by the ending to last season. After catching 35 passes in the Buckeyes’ first eight games, he had nine receptions in their last six. Zach Smith said his star wideout was“ disappointed he wasn’t great, just good.”
Now, Devin Smith said he intends to “go out with a bang,” and hopes a changed focus and position will see that it happens.
“One thing that’s really helped me is being at a new position,” Smith said. “Instead of being split wide all the time, I’ll also be in the slot a lot. We changed a lot this year.”
Also helping: the guys taking aim on his starting job.
“We need [Smith] to have a consistent, good season,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “The neat thing is the quality depth that is there in that receivers room now is forcing him to compete on a daily basis.”
Smith wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m just very blessed,” he said.
MILLER WATCH: Ohio State continues to be cautious with quarterback Braxton Miller as the two-time defending Big Ten MVP recovers from offseason shoulder surgery.
Miller made only a handful of throws during live drills at practice last week and sat out the Buckeyes’ first scrimmage Saturday. Meyer said Miller remains “right on schedule” to be ready for the Aug. 30 opener against Navy.
“I anticipated this,” he said. “I’ve dealt with guys with arm issues before. We’re being very cautious. He certainly could have practiced yesterday, but we’re in it for the long haul.”