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NDSU's Smith in transition

FARGO - The first game is still two weeks away, certainly not enough time to deem the Ryan Smith Experiment a successful one. But the Bison sophomore has shown enough with spring football and the first three weeks of fall practice that he may be ...

FARGO - The first game is still two weeks away, certainly not enough time to deem the Ryan Smith Experiment a successful one. But the Bison sophomore has shown enough with spring football and the first three weeks of fall practice that he may be a factor in the NDSU offense this season.

"Ryan is going to be a good weapon for us," said quarterback Brock Jensen.

He was always a running back, from his high school days in Wahpeton to his first year at NDSU, where he played as a true freshman. But two factors led the Bison coaches to switch him to receiver: the depth at running back and a 5-foot-7 frame that is better suited for the perimeter of a football field.

Plus, the Bison have discovered something about Smith that wasn't evident in high school: he has good hands. He has rarely dropped a pass since being converted to receiver. Last week in a two-minute drill, he made two straight diving catches on the sideline.

Bison offensive coordinator Brent Vigen said Wahpeton head coach Mike McCall told the Bison coaches during the recruiting process that he felt Smith would be effective at receiver if needed.

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"I played catch with my dad all the time, that kind of backyard football stuff," Smith said. "People throw it up and I'll catch it."

Senior Warren Holloway and freshman Zach Vraa will most likely be the opening-night starters against Lafayette College (Pa.) on Sept. 3. Of course, receiver is a position often rotated and it appears Smith will be slotted to play a slot/receiver role.

"Coach told me to be ready for anything so right now probably a little bit of both," Smith said.

It's not a new experiment for Bison coaches, who moved 5-foot-6 return specialist/running back Shamen Washington to receiver in 2007 and 2008. The plan was to get Washington the ball in space and let him utilize his major college speed.

The switch never really worked, with one reason being Washington had trouble with injured knees for at least half of his Bison career. He had one catch in '07 and got the ball mostly on end-around runs. Plus, Vigen said in retrospect they moved Washington to receiver too late in his career.

"Looking back, we should have dove into it with both feet and we didn't do that with Shamen exactly," Vigen said.

There's also another difference between Smith and Washington: weight. Smith is 25 pounds heavier and that makes a difference getting off the line of scrimmage.

"That allows him to operate in the slot," Vigen said. "With Shamen, if anybody would get their hands on him, he had to out-quick people. Ryan has better strength out there."

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Said head coach Craig Bohl: "We felt we had to integrate him into the offense more. We moved him from running back to receiver and he's taken hold of that well. We're trying to find different ways to get him the football out on the edge ... his hands have certainly improved."

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack's NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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