At the time, Alex Smith was pretty upset.
He lost a year of eligibility after being used for just a handful of plays during a desperate period of Ron McBride's final season at Utah in 2002.
Smith was a freshman quarterback and was inserted into a losing game at San Diego State for a few plays only to have a pass intercepted for a touchdown. After that, he only threw one more pass, two weeks later in an overtime loss to New Mexico.
It seemed like a waste of a redshirt season at the time. But now Smith wonders what he would do if he had to attend three years of graduate school while completing his football eligibility.
"I don't know what I would have done," Smith said. "It turned out well."
Plus, the way Smith is playing football these days, a lot of folks wonder if he could stick around two more full seasons, before taking his game to the next level.
Smith has won 15 of his 16 starts and led the Utes to 10 straight victories, including six this season. During the month of September while the Utes were perfect, Smith was almost perfect himself, throwing eight touchdown passes without an interception for 952 yards and also rushing for 201 yards and four touchdowns.
For that performance, he was a clear choice for Deseret Morning News Athlete of the Month.
Or should we say "student-athlete," as the NCAA loves to refers to collegiate athletes, whether the student part fits or not.
In Smith's case, the title more than applies. He's the quintessential student-athlete.
The son of a high school principal, Smith has always taken his studies seriously. In high school, he was an A student and took every advanced placement test he could. Of the 14 tests he took, he passed 12, which helped knock two years off his college requirements.
When he arrived at Utah, he discovered he had 64 hours of credit, putting him more than halfway to graduation. Being an excellent student already, it wasn't hard for Smith to complete his bachelor's degree during his first two years, when he compiled a 3.79 GPA.
That makes him unusual among his teammates, most of whom are doing their best to complete their undergraduate degree in four or five years.
Even the handful who already have their degrees are seniors, not juniors like Smith.
"It's different for me because I'm so far ahead," said Smith, who is working toward a master's degree in economics in the U.'s two-year program.
At least he's not feeling overburdened as a graduate student.
"I have kind of a light semester, which is nice because I can concentrate on football," he said.
Smith still has the minimum of 12 hours. But along with three economic classes, he has three PE classes including a bowling class (let's hope he doesn't injure that precious right arm at the alley). Smith plans to make up for his "light" schedule, saying, "I can load up in spring and summer."
It's probably fortunate that Smith has a lighter-than-usual load this fall. As the Utes keep winning and Smith keeps playing so well, the requests for interviews keep growing.
Utah sports information director Liz Abel has been busy all fall trying to accommodate the many requests for Smith. Besides the daily interviews with the local media, he does about a dozen interviews with out-of-state media every week.
Already this season he's talked to reporters from ESPNews, USA Today, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, L.A. Times, ESPN Magazine and others. Later this week he's scheduled to talk to Sports Illustrated and next week he's been asked to appear on ESPN2's "Cold Pizza" morning show.
It might be a bit mind-boggling, or at least distracting, for a 20-year-old, but Smith handles it with aplomb, patiently answering every question and making sure each reporter gets all that he needs before moving along to the next.
"He's been great," said Abel. "He doesn't complain and spends all the time (the media) needs."
Smith's smarts have certainly helped him on the football field. He's a good, but not great runner, and has an adequate, though not especially strong, arm.
But it's his ability to pick apart defenses and his penchant for always making the correct decision that set Smith apart from other quarterbacks. No wonder Smith is being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate by the U. sports information office and is already on several national Heisman lists.
When Smith finishes his master's degree next year, he'd like to attend law school, though not necessarily to be a lawyer.
"I'd like to get my J.D. degree because it opens a lot of doors," he said. "It's something I've always wanted to do."
Something else he'd like to do is play professional football. The way Smith is going, he should be on most NFL wish lists by the end of his senior season, perhaps with a Heisman Trophy in hand."He's going to be a great player before he leaves here," said Ute coach Urban Meyer. "He's close to that right now."
2004 Deseret Morning News Athletes of the Month
January Nate Harris, Utah State basketball
February Mark Bigelow, BYU basketball
March Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz
April Melissa Vituj, U. gymnastics
May Carlos Moreno, BYU volleyball
June Annie Thurman, USA Curtis Cup golf team
July Teren & Emily Jameson, 10K winners in July 24 road races
August Cael Sanderson, Olympic champion wrestlerSeptember Alex Smith, U. football
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