Smith checks out

After one of the most decorated careers in school history, Alex Smith will ride off into the sunset. The junior quarterback has announced he will forgo his senior year and enter this spring’s NFL draft.

“After sitting down with my family, I just came to the realization that there isn’t much left for me to accomplish in college football,” Smith said at his goodbye press conference.

New Ute head coach Kyle Whittingham agreed with Smith’s decision.

“The selfish part of me certainly would love to have Alex back,” Whittingham said. “But he’s going to be a first- or second-round draft choice. He has my full support.”

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. projects Smith as a possible top 10 draft pick. Should Smith go in the first round, he would be the first Ute QB to go that early since the New York Giants took Lee Grosscup in the first round in 1959. Smith would be the first Ute signal caller drafted at all since Scott Mitchell in 1990.

Recruited by former coach Ron McBride out of Helix High School in San Diego, Smith’s career got off to an inauspicious start. As a freshman, Smith was inserted into a late-season game versus San Diego State and burned his red-shirt year, prompting him to rethink his choice to go to Utah.

After Urban Meyer replaced McBride, Smith was still on the bench, backing up Brett Elliott. But after Elliott broke his hand on a fateful two-point conversion attempt early in the 2003 season, Smith became the starter for good.

The rest was history.

Smith leaves the U after compiling a 21-1 record as a starter. He threw for 47 touchdowns, to go with 15 rushing touchdowns. Smith was intercepted only eight times during his time in Salt Lake City.

“I’ve learned a tremendous amount about football, especially in the last two years,” Smith said. “But the biggest thing I’ve learned is the importance of hard work. I think the last two years I’ve seen the direct result of how much work I’ve put in.”

The hard work has paid off, as Smith filled up his trophy case this season. He became the U’s first Heisman Trophy finalist, finishing fourth. The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated both named him their College Football Player of the Year. After a controversial snub in 2003, Smith was the unanimous selection for Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Year this year.

The baton will now most likely be passed to 17-year-old Brian Johnson, who served as backup to Smith this season, seeing time in 10 games. The freshman was 14-21 for 142 yards and one touchdown.

“He has to carry himself as maturely as he has,” Smith said about his probable successor.

“I know he’s excited about the opportunity.”

[email protected]