The 2010 Florida State 110 meter hurdle champion has run track since he was seven years old. He also played wide receiver for four years at national powerhouse Northwestern (Mia.) High School, but his small frame coming out of high school lended itself more to track scholarships than to football free rides.
Smith selected North Carolina for his track future and excelled early, placing second in the 400-meter hurdles at the ACC Outdoor Championships in 2011. He followed that performance up with a fourth-place finish (52.12) in the same event last spring, as well as a sixth-place finish (14.16) in the 110 meter hurdles.
That success, however, never overshadowed Smith’s passion to play football at the collegiate level. He decided after enrolling at Chapel Hill that he would wait before attempting to juggle two sports.
“Once I got here, I was trying to balance track and classes, so I thought at the time two sports would really drain me,” Smith said on Tuesday. “Now that I’ve got a feel for the school and how everything works, I feel like I can handle it.”
Smith and his father, Sheldon, met with Larry Fedora during the offseason about walking onto the football team, and after due diligence in checking background and character, the first-year UNC head coach offered the track star an opportunity.
So far, so good.
“He’s done some really nice things for a kid that didn’t have 15 days of spring practice,” Fedora said. “He’s made some nice catches. He’s fine in the contact phase, catching the ball in a crowd, so it will be interesting to see how he progresses.”
The transition from the track to the football field was jarring at first.
“The first day I actually died coming from track,” Smith said. “It’s not the same.”
Smith played in a up-tempo spread offense at Northwestern, though, so adapting to Fedora’s frenetic pace hasn’t been as daunting as he may have initially thought.
“I’m used to running around real fast and not getting a rest,” Smith said. “I’ve been in the book every night trying to learn plays and talking to the older guys. If I mess up in practice, I just make a mental note and go back and watch film every day before meetings so I can get everything under control.”
Wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer initially put Smith in the slot at the “A” position, but he’s since been moved out to the “X” spot, which utilizes a healthy dose of post and deep routes.
“They need speed on the outside, so that’s why I’m there,” Smith said.
Senior wide receiver Jhay Boyd has long been considered the fastest player on the team – he ran a 10.71 in the 100-meter dash at the ACC Championships in April –but Smith’s addition may challenge for that title. Erik Highsmith, Boyd’s classmate, isn’t quite ready to hand that distinction to the rookie.
“I don’t know, I’ve got to see them lined up,” HIghsmith replied when asked which teammate was faster. “Jhay’s blazing, but Roy’s just quick and shifty.”
Not only does Smith’s speed stand out, but Highsmith pointed to his ability in picking up the offense, saying, “It’s like its natural to him.”
Despite his small frame, Smith has also earned praise from the defense for his ability to play in traffic.
“We knew out of the gate he was a track guy, so we knew he had the speed but we didn’t know how his agility or physicality would be, ” sophomore cornerback Tim Scott said. “But at receiver so far, he’s been doing pretty good.”
T.J. Thorpe’s broken foot and Todd Harrelson’s dismissal has created a glaring need for bodies at wide receiver, thereby opening the door for Smith to work in with the first- and second-teams during the first five practices of training camp. It’s an added benefit that Smith’s strengths blend effectively with UNC’s spread offense.
“Speed kills, so when you’ve got guys that run around all over the field, it can hurt the defense,” Smith said. “You’ve just got to run hard and play hard every play and leave your skills on the field.”
Smith is also included in the large group of Tar Heels receiving reps at both punt returner and kick returner.
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