By Jason Elmquist
CNHI News Service
STILLWATER — Just before Oklahoma State’s fall camp, running backs coach Jemal Singleton wouldn’t go as far as anointing Jeremy Smith as the teams starting back for the upcoming season.
Singleton made mention that the senior from Tulsa who has been backup to Joseph Randle — now playing for the Dallas Cowboys — still has to prove his merit for the job.
“It’s not that Jeremy Smith is set in stone as our starter. He’s gotta earn it, he’s gotta work for it,” Singleton said. “I love having Desmond Roland nipping at his heels if he’s not doing it right.”
But battling for the most carries is nothing new to Smith. He did that with Randle for the past two years. So he’s not going to let the chance of finally getting to start for OSU’s explosive offense to go to waste.
“I think coach Singleton still wants to see that work come out of me. That’s never going to decrease, it will most likely increase with how hard I’ll work,” Smith said. “I’ve been going out there every day, showing them that things are going to stay the same.”
Being Oklahoma State’s starting running back isn’t Smith’s ultimate goal, however. He’s looking big picture — as in Big 12 Conference picture.
“No. 1 rusher in the Big 12. Nothing will drop off,” said Smith, whose predecessor Randle led the league last year. “I will be the top running back in the conference. Credit coach Singleton for being a great coach and people are going to see that. They’ve seen it the last few years, but they are going to continue to see it this year.”
The biggest concern surrounding Smith, however, is his health. The running back hasn’t been the poster child for staying healthy, missing parts of the past two years injuries.
“It’s all about conditioning,” said Smith, who came into fall camp looking a little leaner than past seasons. “I won’t have to keep cooling my body down than working it back up to go back in there. I will always be warm.”
Standing in the way of the Tulsa Union product is Dallas junior Desmond Roland.
“We push each other every day because we know that at the end of it, we’re both going to have to play with the offense we run,” Roland said. “It’s just motivation between the two of us. ... I don’t see it as a competition. With this offense, we’re a tempo offense and it’s real fast paced. So I’m going to play eventually and get my reps, and he’s going to get his reps.”
Having played the third-string role the past two years, Roland got the chance to see some time on the field in OSU blowouts. In limited action last year, Roland had 46 carries for 301 yards — for a team-best 6.5 average for runners with more than 15 carries — and four touchdowns.
“Getting to play some got my nervousness out early. Going out in the third or fourth quarter still helps you as a player — shows you the game speed,” Roland said. “I now know what to look forward to coming into the season.”
As for the bounty of backs slotted to vie for Roland’s previous position as RB3, there will be just as much competition as for the starting spot.
Sophomores Caleb Muncrief, who had 14 carries for 57 yards in mop up time, and Corey Bennett, who rushed for 91 yards on 12 attempts with a touchdown, will have to fend off freshmen Rennie Childs and Corion Webster — who have impressed some coaches in the fall camp.
“All of those guys are going out there every day and giving us competition,” Smith said. “They all push me to work even harder and that’s what I’m doing. I know what they are doing, so I know how hard I have to work to be that guy.”