STILLWATER, Okla. -- It finally hit Jeremy Smith that he would be the featured running back when one of Oklahoma State’s famed former featured runners followed him on Twitter.
It was Oklahoma State legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas.
“I pretty much smiled when he did,” Smith said. “Looking up to those guys, Thurman and Barry (Sanders) -- the thing here is 'Tailback U.'
"We've proven that. We’re going to keep that going."
The onus has now fallen on to Smith to keep the Cowboys’ venerable running back tradition going.
At long last.
After backing up All-Big 12 running backs Joseph Randle, Kendall Hunter and Keith Toston the past four seasons, Smith’s turn as the bell-cow back has finally arrived.
“I’m too ready,” said Smith, a fifth-year senior. “I feel blessed to have this opportunity.
“It’s my turn now.”
Oklahoma State’s running back history is one of the richest in the country. Thomas elevated it to another level with two first-team All-American seasons in the ‘80s before going on to star with the Buffalo Bills. Then in 1988, Sanders put together one of the greatest individual seasons by any player in college football history on his way to capturing the Heisman.
Even as Oklahoma State has evolved into a spread attack under coach Mike Gundy -- Thomas and Sanders’ quarterback -- the Cowboys have continued to produce outstanding running backs. Oklahoma State has featured a 1,000-yard running back in each of the last six seasons.
Coaches and teammates believe Smith has all the tools to become the seventh.
"He's got the skills, he's got the ability, he's got the knowledge," said position coach Jemal Singleton.
“He definitely has the capability."
Smith has definitely been a capable wingman the past four seasons, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Among Oklahoma State running backs with more than 100 career carries, Sanders owns a better average. Because of his powerful running style, Smith has been especially efficient in the red zone, underscored by his 25 career rushing touchdowns.
“Jeremy is extremely explosive,” Singleton said. “He’s got a really good burst. When he sticks his foot in the ground, he can get going.”
Really, the only knock on Smith has been durability.
After rushing for an Oklahoma State freshman-debut record 160 yards, Smith had to redshirt after suffering a shoulder injury. Nagging injuries hampered him the past two seasons, too.
Smith, however, said being on the field full-time should actually help his durability.
"I won't be trying to warm myself up all the time,” Smith said. “That won’t be a problem at all. I'll always be warm.”
Keeping Smith warm and healthy will be paramount for the Pokes, who have no other seasoned rusher on the roster. Smith, however, has inspired confidence he can handle the load with the work his teammates say he put in during the offseason. Smith’s massive biceps inspire confidence, too.
“I always tease him,” Gundy said, “if I looked like him, I’d just move to (Los Angeles) and walk around in swim trunks all day.”
Good thing for the Cowboys, Smith will be in Stillwater for one more season. With hopes of keeping Oklahoma State’s tailback tradition up and rolling.
“Be looking for a big year,” Smith said. “Not going to be any letdown -- I promise you that.”