A positional change doesn’t come easy. Whether it’s on the court, field, or the gridiron, a switch in roles and responsibilities often can derail a career. From a coach’s perspective, they are moves often made to get certain guys reps, but in turn, athletes often fail to adjust egos and/or their body makeup, ultimately to where a shadowing blanket of doubt begins to creep into players’ minds of ‘not being good enough’ to fit their initially desired role.
For Baylor’s Abram Smith, a former high school standout ball-carrier turned linebacker turned running back, his ability to face adversity head-on has introduced one of the country’s most impactful running back talents.
Recruited by former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule to provide a jolt into the Bears’ backfield, Smith joined Baylor just months after Rhule was hired to replace longtime bench boss Art Briles. As it is for most prep athletes entering a college locker room, however, Smith failed to find early success. He was redshirted in his true freshman campaign after suffering a second knee injury, and made a minimal impact as a redshirt freshman the next fall, appearing in just six games. And despite Baylor finishing with an 11-3 record and a berth in both the Big 12 title game and Sugar Bowl, Smith once again found himself without a role and a future in football up in the air. Fully healthy, he appeared in 14 games that fall, totaling seven tackles as a gunner on special teams. Following the conclusion of his redshirt sophomore season, the transfer portal, at the time, looked to present his clearest avenue to snaps. A stoutly-built talent at 220 pounds, Smith was buried in the running backs room. Without a window of opportunity for playing time, the initial seed was planted for Smith to move to linebacker.
As Rhule left for the head coaching gig with the Carolina Panthers prior to the start of the 2020 season, a new face in Dave Aranda who mastheaded a CFP-title-winning LSU defense the year prior was the new man in charge. While Smith contemplated inserting his name into the portal, he stuck it out and eventually moved into a starting role within Aranda’s defense last fall. And although he recorded just four starts at the tail end of Baylor’s disappointing season, Smith was everywhere at the second level, recording 13 tackles in his first collegiate start against Texas Tech and led all Baylor defenders in tackles the final slate of games. But this time, Aranda desired change and a boost to a talent-depleted offense saw the hiring of former BYU offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes who was looked upon to provide a stout running game and a Run N’ Gun offensive approach to the point-heavy conference that is the Big 12. As the Bears entered the spring, Aranda quickly found himself without a back that could fit Grimes’ ideal backfield bell cow.
A ground game littered with wide-zone concepts, the Bears possessed a slew of young, similarly built talents to that of Smith and fifth-year back Trestan Ebner—under 6-foot and 210+ pounds—but experience was missing. With a newfound handprint on the identity of the Baylor offense, Smith was quickly snatched back from the defensive side of the ball to captain the Bears’ ground game. After slowly working in on offense during spring practice, when Smith returned to campus this fall with a white jersey hanging in his locker—dedicated to offensive players—he knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.
After compiling four rushing touchdowns in Baylor’s first two games, the notion of Smith ever returning to the defensive side of the ball became mute in Waco. Currently the leader in rushing yards among all Big 12 ball-carriers, Smith has enjoyed a blast from the past after dominating the prep scene as a standout running back in nearby Abilene, Texas. Currently top five in touchdowns (11) and tops in yards per carry (7.3), Smith has become the straw that stirs the high-octane Baylor offense. Alongside junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon, the two have introduced one of the country’s most explosive backfield tandems, placing the Bears at No. 11 in the most recent CFP rankings.
A downhill runner who invites contact, Smith is as physical a runner as they come in the college game. Couple his nasty demeanor in space with enough speed to break past closing corners, and Smith has quickly become a prospect to red dot as we move into the winter months.
A story of triumph and conquering hurdles, Smith has found his gridiron identity. An under-recruited prospect who’s gone through the mud and back to earn snaps in whatever way possible, his skill set as one of the nation’s most impactful backs will draw national attention as we steamroll toward April.