Redshirt sophomore Rashard Smith knows exactly how many games the Wolfpack have played since he suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2009 - 18 contests. The former defensive back can recall the date of his injury before the question can even be asked - Oct. 17, 2009.
Although it was a long, tough road back to the gridiron with early morning rehab sessions almost daily, he said the thing he remembers most about that fateful game was the final score - 52-20, in favor of the Eagles.
"52-20, that's not a feeling I want to taste again," he said after practice on Wednesday.
Article Continues Below
Several things have changed since the injury, when Smith was a true freshman starting at cornerback. For starters, the native of Dublin, Ga. is playing offense now, lining up at wide receiver.
"It was the coaches' decision," he said. "I just go wherever the team needs me to play at and I do whatever the coaches tell me to do.
"I'm too happy to be back on the field. I've missed 18 straight games. That number has been in the back of my head since the game. It's just been heartbreaking to watch my team perform well and not be able to help them out in practice. Now, I finally get a chance to come back out here and help them out, it feels great.
"It was tough, waking up at 6:00 a.m. and coming in every day, five days out of the week, but I knew that I needed to get back on the field and do what's right to help my team out, that's all I was worried about."
Smith redshirted last season while still recovering from the injury and he is switching to a position that he's not really experienced at, outside of a few snaps in high school. However, he's motivated and stresses that he's willing to do whatever it takes to help the team.
"I'm not necessarily experienced at wide receiver, I was mostly a quarterback in high school, but being on that side of the ball is nothing new for me," he said. "Having to sit out motivated me. I'm goal-oriented and I've been driven ever since that day [of the injury]. I've been working hard in the training room, on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom and in the community. I've just been getting myself right, coming out here in practice and working hard, making sure the team and myself are ready to play on Saturday.
"We're ready and it can't get here fast enough."
The 5-foot-11, 176-pound speedster admits that his time at defensive back is something that he leans on to help him through the transition to the other side of the ball. He also has several teammates who have offered a helping hand despite the fact that they used to battle each other every day in practice.
"It helps a lot being a DB and moving over because you can see and understand what the defense is running," he said. "Our senior leaders have been helping me - Jay Smith, T.J. Graham and Steven Howard. Also, Quintin Payton has helped.
"They tell me just to study the playbook, watch film and just don't think because if you think too hard, you're going to mess up. You have to just go out there and play."
Although Smith is new to the offensive side of the ball in college, he also feels that the game experience he picked up as a freshman will work in his favor.
"[Game experienced helps one become] a college football player, understand the concepts, understand the opponent and understand yourself," he said. "You have to come out and make plays, whether it's on offense, defense or special teams. You've just got to do what the coaches ask you to do."