Smith looks to lead UK rushing game on Saturday

He sat behind then-senior Rafael Little in his sophomore year. His junior year, he was blocked on the depth chart by Tony Dixon, one year older than him.

Now that he’s finally a senior and both those players are gone, Alfonso Smith is still waiting on his chance to be the main man in the Cats’ running back rotation.

“You know, you get frustrated when you come into the season and you have some high expectations and some things don’t swing your way and you see your reps decrease,” Smith said. “But everything’s good now and I’m fairly healthy, so I should see my reps increase a lot.”

Tailback Alfonso Smith runs for a first down during the second half of the game against Auburn at the Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. Photo by Zach Brake | Staff

Tailback Alfonso Smith runs for a first down during the second half of the game against Auburn at the Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday. Photo by Zach Brake | Staff

Smith started the first two games of the season before junior tailback Derrick Locke earned the starting spot. Locke has since seen his snaps increase as Smith nurses an injury. In the Cats’ 28-26 loss at South Carolina on Oct. 10, Smith didn’t get a single carry.

Because his snaps have decreased, Smith has had more time to tend to a torn ligament in his right wrist, his dominant hand, and has been wearing a cast for most of the last few weeks.

Wearing that cast can make him more fumble-prone, so UK head coach Rich Brooks has opted to give the majority of carries to Locke. But as Smith is getting healthy, Locke is becoming banged up. Locke is currently listed as questionable for Saturday’s game after spraining a knee ligament against Auburn.

When Locke is healthy, though, he’s the clear starter at tailback, UK head coach of the offense Joker Phillips said.

“Right now (Smith’s) role is a reliever for Locke,” Phillips said.

Locke became the first UK player since 2007 to rush for 100 yards in a game when he racked up 126 while pacing UK’s offense past the Tigers. Locke surpassed 1,000 career rushing yards this season and is climbing his way up the all-time rushing list at UK.

Locke ranks 22nd all-time now, though he’s still more than 2,000 yards behind Sonny Collins, UK’s career rushing leader. Even though Locke still has a long way to go before he can consider passing Collins, Smith thinks it’s still possible.

“He could end up on top actually,” Smith said. “He’s just been put in a better situation than I’ve been put in.”

Being in front of Smith on the depth chart, who still has a chance of also reaching 1,000 career rushing yards this season, is one thing that makes Locke’s situation better. Smith has had to fight his share of injuries through his career and few players have been pushed down the depth chart as much as him, but he’s managed to remain upbeat for most of his career.

“The thing we like about (Smith) is that he’s a team player,” Phillips said.

If Locke can’t go on Saturday, Smith may get the chance he’s been waiting his whole career for – a chance to be the main main. If not, he’ll still be there for the Cats as a contributor and a leader in the locker room. He’s still comfortable with his job, even if his senior season isn’t going as planned.

“It just makes it more tough on you to stay motivated,” Smith said. “But I know I’m going to get my chances so I just have to stay healthy and push through to the end of the season.”