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June 23, 2008

Expectations high for new wide receiver

Considering he's yet to even take a game-day snap at wide receiver, Keith Smith is hardly proven at his newest - and he hopes last - position.

But that doesn't stop those around him from talking about the sophomore as if he is.

Coach Joe Tiller, in particular, has suggested that Purdue will count heavily on Smith in its revamped corps of receivers.

Quarterback Curtis Painter agreed.

"He's a great athlete," Painter said. "... As athletic as he is and as big as he is, there's really no better spot for him than wide receiver. You don't want to make this comparison yet, but he's kind of like Dustin (Keller). He's a big, physical body in there who's a mismatch for a lot of people.

"He'll be a big, athletic target in there."

That can be said with some degree of certainty now that Smith says he's passed the necessary academic standard to regain his eligibility.

"He was the guy I was worried about most who came through the best," Tiller said a few weeks ago. "That's huge for us."

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Smith has endured a long road to this point.

He came to West Lafayette as a quarterback in 2006, but ended up playing - sparingly - as a safety that season after injuries called for any willing, warm body to help out in the secondary.

The spring that followed, Smith took a leave from school in order to tend to family matters in Texas, throwing his career off track academically and making him eligible only to practice in 2007.

While redshirting last season, Smith was a quarterback again.

During pre-bowl practices he began working out at wide receiver and the move quickly became permanent.

"It's a relief to have found my position now," Smith said. "I'm glad I'm finally stable at a position and I know where I'm going to be for a long time. It's great knowing I'll be able to come out on Saturdays in front of thousands and thousands of people."

By the sounds of it, he'll certainly get that chance.

If the season started tomorrow, Smith would very likely be Purdue's No. 1 slot receiver, the position that routinely catches the most passes in the Boilermaker offense.

It's also a position long occupied by Smurfs, from Vinny Sutherland to Taylor Stubblefield to Dorien Bryant, none of whom let their lack of size prevent them from becoming some of the most productive players in Purdue, Big Ten and NCAA history.

The only time Tiller's fielded a slot receiver as big as Smith, Chris Daniels caught 121 passes in 1999.

"The coaches have made comparisons (to Daniels)," Smith said, "just little jokes and stuff."

Never one to lack confidence in himself, Smith expects to fulfill the lofty hopes placed on him.

(First things first: Smith is recovering from ankle surgery and resumes serious running in a week or so.)

"I'm very comfortable, I feel great and Curtis loves me there," Smith joked. "I think he likes having a big target in there. He's liking it, I'm liking it and I think the coaches are liking it."

"I think this is a the year for me to come out and prove myself to everybody here at Purdue and show the potential everybody's always thought I've had."


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