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WVU QB Smith is making name for himself

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Geno Smith likes to spend time on YouTube every night watching highlights of quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

The West Virginia junior quarterback watches with a purpose. He watches because they're the best.

"If it's anything, I just want to be the best at it," Smith said. "My calling is football. ... Any chance I get to go out there and work on my craft, I love it. I embrace it."

Smith is quietly becoming one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. If No. 16 West Virginia is to upset No. 2 LSU on Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium, it will largely be because of Smith.

Through the first three games this season, he has completed almost 70 percent of his passes for 1,008 yards, seven touchdowns and just one interception. He ranks sixth in the nation at 336 passing yards per game.

He faces an LSU defense that has allows just 12 points per game — 15th best in the country.

All eyes will be on Smith.

"He's a very positive kid," West Virginia quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said. "That's always a plus, especially as a quarterback. The kids just feed off of it. They look to him in pressure situations on the field."

Smith said he can't remember when he started playing football, but as a kid he fell in love with everything about it. He played receiver when he started organized football but moved to quarterback because he constantly wanted the ball in his hands.

"I think it's like my toy, a football," he said. "I can put it in different spots and get it to guys, and it's kind of fun just to be able to do those things."

Despite an appearance as bubbly, energetic and talkative, Smith is mostly quiet. He isn't the type to start a conversation. Being an introvert became problematic on the field.

He didn't understand the importance of trust among teammates. It wasn't until his freshman year of high school — after a coach told him he would never be a good quarterback unless he developed relationships with his linemen, receivers and running backs — that he began shedding his shell.

It is some of the best advice he has ever received.

"You can't have a relationship on the field if you don't have one off the field," he said.

Smith has those relationships now. He's best friends with center Joe Madsen. He has a rapport with receivers Stedman Bailey and Ivan McCartney, thanks to a relationship that dates to their days at Miramar High School in Miami.

He is someone teammates want to be around and trust on and off the field.

Yet he battles self-negativity. So he is a film freak. He studies so much that he can't count how many hours he spends watching film. If he's not in class, at practice or doing interviews, he's in the film room.

He studies film of West Virginia's opponents, other quarterbacks and himself. He's critical of every nuance of his game, from fundamentals to decision-making, to the point that even his coaches tell him to lighten up.

"In my head, it's like I'm fighting two people — the good guy and the bad guy," Smith said. "There's one guy saying, 'You're good enough,' and there's another that says, 'No, you're not that guy.'

"It's kind of like my driving motivation."

His drive for perfection has made him a leader. During the university's coaching drama during the summer, players looked to Smith for guidance. When Dana Holgorsen became head coach, he expected Smith to lead. And he has.

"He's talented — we all know he's talented," Holgorsen said. "He's the leader in the clubhouse."

It can be a lot for a shy kid from Miami to take. But it's pressure he willingly accepts.

"All I ever needed was an opportunity just to go out, showcase my talent and show off all the hard work I've put in," Smith said. "That's something I thrive off of, and I love it."

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