BJ Smith

Submitted / Troy Athletics Former Stanhope Elmore star B.J. Smith had a breakout season for Troy last year, rushing for 1186 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Troy running back and Stanhope Elmore graduate B.J. Smith was one of 80 college football players to be named to the annual Maxwell Award Watch List earlier this month. The award is handed out in December honoring the best all-around player of the season in college football and Smith has his name alongside several nationally-known names including Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts.

“First of all, it was definitely a blessing,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of really talented people around the country so just to see my name around those guys, it’s a blessing and I don’t take that for granted.”

Smith is the second Troy player in the last three years to be named to the preseason watch list after quarterback Brandon Silvers made the list in 2017. Smith was also named to the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, annually given to the country’s best running back, and he was named the Sun Belt’s preseason offensive player of the year.

“I think any time your players are recognized, especially with national awards, that’s good for your brand,” Troy running backs and special teams coach Brian Blackmon said. “And it’s even better when it’s a guy like B.J. who stands for the right things and deserves every award he gets. B.J. is another guy on a long list of guys like that coming out of Troy.”

Smith had a breakout season during his junior year at Troy, gaining recognition for his accomplishments on the field. He led the Sun Belt with 1,186 rushing yards and was named a first-team All-Sun Belt running back.

“I think his work ethic is the reason he’s in the position he’s in,” Blackmon said. “There’s no kid who plays running back in Division I football that doesn’t have the talent but where you separate yourself is the amount of work you put in. He’s a guy who has been humble since the day he got here and he’s worked extremely hard.”

During his breakout season, Smith rushed for 100 yards in five games and scored a touchdown in nine of the team’s 13 games. During his first multi-score game of the season, Smith came through on national television for the Trojans when his two-touchdown performance helped secure an upset victory at Nebraska.

“It was real fun,” Smith said. “The coaching staff challenged us all week about it being on national TV and in front of a sold-out crowd so I guess we practiced with a little bit of extra energy. It gave us a little extra motivation so it was a lot of fun.”

Smith credited his season to the players around him and the opportunities he was given as the team’s number one running back. Blackmon said he believes Smith is every bit as good as any of the backs he has coached in the past but it’s Smith’s work ethic and leadership that sets him apart from others.

“You have to keep working every day,” Smith said. “Complacency is one of the worst things in this world. I’ve gotten a lot of recognition in the preseason but at the end of the day, that doesn’t really mean anything. If I don’t go out there and produce, this doesn’t mean anything.”

With the 2019 season inching closer, Smith said the biggest thing on his mind is the fact the Trojans were picked to finish second in the conference at Sun Belt Media Days. He said he was honored by all the individual recognition but he wants to make sure he can do everything he can to get that conference championship trophy back to Troy at the end of the year.

“I just want to have fun and enjoy it,” Smith said. “We have like six months left of our college career so we just want to embrace it and have fun. I want to be the best teammate I can be and uplift those around me so that five years from now, when someone asks my teammate ‘how was B.J.?’ they can say he was a great man. That’s all I want at the end of the day.”

With his college career coming to a close, Smith has a goal to play professionally next season. Many of the players on the Maxwell watch list will be drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft and Smith will likely get some consideration if he stays healthy and continues to work toward that goal.

“I don’t think the kid has a ceiling,” Blackmon said. “Every day, we’re trying not to put a ceiling on it but we’re trying to raise the floor. I’m a big believer in doing everything you can to build yourself up so your bad days are less and your best days are always ahead of you. He certainly has the ability and the drive.”

Smith recognized his time at Stanhope helped get him where he is today and he certainly will not forget it. Jeff Foshee was the head coach for Smith during his time as a Mustang and Smith said it allowed him to get ready to play at the collegiate level and beyond.

“I feel like it’s played a really big role,” Smith said. “Coach Foshee, no day was ever easy with him and his coaching staff. That definitely helped me and prepared me a lot.”

Current Stanhope coach Brian Bradford was on staff at Stanhope during Smith’s first years as a varsity player.

Bradford said he has seen a lot of talent at the high school level during his time as a coach but he knew Smith was special early in his career.

“B.J. is the epitome of what you want in a football player,” Bradford said. “He’s an outstanding person first and he’s always the hardest worker on the team. I saw him in eighth grade and I knew then that he was going to be great. It couldn’t have happened to a better guy.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.