FLORENCE — Spring football practice is a time for experimenting, but one of North Alabama’s biggest spring experiments actually started in the final week of the 2012 season.
That’s when coach Bobby Wallace made the decision to move Lamar Smith from running back to cornerback. Smith made the move the week of the final game against West Alabama.
The move was made somewhat out of necessity as injuries had taken a toll on the depth at cornerback. Wallace, however, said it was more a case of trying to come up with a larger role for Smith.
“There is no question that Lamar is a talented player,” Wallace said.
“It was just a situation where we have excellent depth at running back and wanted to get Lamar on the field more. We feel he has the tools to be an outstanding cornerback.”
Smith came to UNA last spring after playing two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He immediately emerged as the No. 2 tailback behind Lamonte Thompson.
In his nine games at running back, Smith ran for 216 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He admits being somewhat apprehensive when first approached about changing positions.
“When Coach Wallace first approached me I was kind of lost and not sure why he was doing it,” Smith said. “But he explained to me that I was one of the better players on the team and he wanted me on the field more. I accepted the role and I’m going to do my best.”
Smith got thrown into the fire quickly. Despite only a couple of days working at cornerback, he saw plenty of playing time against West Alabama in the season finale.
“It was an opportunity to get on the field so I took it,” he said. “It was tough moving that last week, but it was to not just for that game but to get me prepared for what’s coming up this season.”
There have been many adjustments in going from offense to defense for Smith. He said the biggest adjustment is with the coaching staff.
“There is a different coaching style on defense,” he said. “On offense you have to be programmed to know the plays, where on defense you just have to know the concepts.”
Cornerback was a big need during the recruiting season. In addition to the move of Smith, the Lions added Washington State transfer Terrance Hayward.
Wallace has been pleased with the improvement the cornerbacks showed in the first week of spring practice. He said Smith is making good progress at his new spot.
“He is still learning the techniques and fundamentals of being a corner,” Wallace said. “Being a running back last year that is going to take a while, but I feel like he will do well.”
In addition to his success on the field in the fall, Smith also excelled in the classroom with a 4.0 GPA. He said being a good student is simply a matter of prioritizing your time.
“As long as you set yourself a schedule and make time for what you have to do it’s not that hard,” he said. “It feels good to let somebody know that you make good grades. It’s good for you and it looks good on the people back home that sent you here.”
While he will no longer be running the ball out of the backfield, Smith will continue to return kickoffs and possibly punts as well. He admits that he misses some parts of playing offense but has no regrets about the move.
“Sometimes I do catch myself looking over at the offense during practice,” he said. “I’ve got to hit some of them in practice and it’s fun to talk smack back and forth with them.
“Cornerback can be a good spot for me if I catch on and keep progressing each week and each practice. Time will tell how it works out, but I’m excited about playing DB.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.