MORGANTOWN-When he arrived on the Morgantown campus in January 2013, no one questioned that Kansas native Dreamius Smith could make an impact on a West Virginia running game that hadn't produced a 1,000-yard rusher since the 2009 campaign.
But, as the season wore on and University of Houston transfer Charles Sims emerged as the Mountaineers' top rushing threat, Smith's opportunities to display the skills that earned him a spot on the Kansas 6A all-state first team became more and more limited.
"Blocking," admitted the Butler Community College transfer. "That was the main thing the coaches wanted me to work on in the spring. That was kind of an issue last year. So, that's the one thing that I wanted to focus on during the offseason."
Focus is exactly what the 5-foot-11 senior did as he entered the spring locked in a five-way battle with sophomores Wendell Smallwood and University of Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell as well as juniors Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie.
"I think I did much better," continued Smith. "The coaches were acknowledging it. The players were acknowledging it. Hearing it from the coaches and players the way I did, I think I got better."
Good enough to earn the starting nod when WVU takes on perennial national championship contender Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic on Saturday, Aug. 30?
"That game is still a long way off,'' said Smith. "Every one of us (running backs) want to be out there when our offense takes to the field against them (Alabama). But, the coaches are the ones who are going to make that decision.
"What we have to do is give them a reason to play us. And, that's why I am working so hard this spring and summer at improving on reading defenses and catching up on the different schemes they use on defense."
Skills that weren't as needed during his playing days at Wichita Heights High School, where his career numbers were 320 rushes, 3,288 yards and 54 touchdowns, or at Butler CC where he rushed for 984 yards and 17 touchdowns on 120 carries.
"I knew it (moving up to D-I) would be different," Smith explained. "But, I wasn't really ready for just how much faster the game is at this level. I wasn't doing a good job of getting my pre-snap reads and that was hurting my chances to play."
But, when he did get a chance to show his talents, the 224-pounder was an exciting player to watch. In WVU's 16-7 loss at Oklahoma, Smith finished with 77 rushing yards, including a spectacular 75-yard run that produced the Mountaineers' only score of the game.
Smith did see the field enough to finish as the team's No. 2 rusher with 494 yards and five touchdowns on 103 carries.
"Everybody in the country that is a running back understands that there is always someone out there that is better than you. I learned a lot from Charles (Sims) and I plan on using what I learned this season."
Will that be enough to earn Smith the starting job or to help the Mountaineers bounce back from a 4-8 campaign? Only time will tell.