Smith evolving into a playmaker


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As junior receiver Tevaun Smith sprinted back toward the right sideline during his end-around reverse run against Northern Iowa on Aug. 30, Andrew Donnal could only think of one thing.

“I was just trying to run out ahead and maybe, possibly, try to get in the way of somebody so he could score a touchdown,” said Donnal, Iowa’s starting right tackle. “That was a crazy play. All the running he’s doing, you think maybe I can help him out a little bit.”

That play was only good for a 35-yard gain (which was enough to lead the team in rushing that day). Smith one-upped himself just a few plays later when he caught a one-handed touchdown pass from six yards out. His athleticism secured him a spot on the “SportsCenter” Top 10 plays later that night.

Entering the 2014 season, the Iowa receiving corps was expected to be a seasoned, yet electrifying group. A lot of the talk in the off-season centered on the possibility of “explosive plays” — plays of 15 or more yards.

Smith, the 6-2, 200-pound Canadian speedster, was expected to contribute, but most were hesitant to call him a playmaker. Last season, he caught just 24 passes for 310 yards and 1 touchdown.

But against Northern Iowa, Smith proved he can be a force at the position, and defenses should keep an eye on him each time he steps on the field.

“Tevaun is starting to evolve as a player,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I thought we saw that at the end of the year, and that’s what we thought we were hoping we saw in 2012, when we pulled the redshirt. It’s all part of the process.”

For Smith, that process involved leaving his home in Toronto, learning to play football in America, and eventually joining a school he had previously never heard of.

He grew up in Toronto, and the pride for his hometown and country is, literally, visible: Smith has maple leaves and the Toronto skyline tattooed under his right bicep.

His Canadian accent is there, too, “ou” sounding like “up” on some words. He loves poutine and follows some friends who play in the Canadian Football League; his favorite team, the Toronto Argonauts. Oddly, he doesn’t watch that much hockey.

There’s no question that Canada has churned out some talented athletes in recent years (see: Andrew Wiggins, Jonathan Toews, among others). But for football players, the fight for exposure is perhaps the toughest of them all.

“I wasn’t getting recruited as much out in Canada, and I wasn’t as good as the talent in America,” Smith said. “Coming out of Canada, I was only getting looked at by Syracuse and a couple of other schools.

“Once I went out to Connecticut and got some film together, Iowa was one of the schools that offered me.”

Smith moved to Connecticut and went to Kent School, a private college-preparatory institution. As a senior, he helped his team to an undefeated record in the regular season. He was a do-it-all guy on offense and just as threatening on defense.

That skill and ability impressed Ferentz, who doesn’t quite remember how he got a hold of Smith’s high-school highlight tape. That part didn’t matter to him.

“Somehow, we got his tape and liked it,” Ferentz said. “And I’m glad. He’s a tremendous young guy, and he’s really improved.”

When Smith first received a letter from Iowa, he was, initially, confused. He had never heard of Iowa before and didn’t even know it was a state.

“I started looking it up and noticed it was in the Big Ten,” Smith said. “I knew there was a lot of cornfields. That was all I really knew about it. Other than that, I started seeing Marvin McNutt making plays and Ricky Stanzi and all those other guys. That intrigued me, and I looked more into it.”

He’s glad he did, too. Now Smith’s here, starting for the Hawkeyes, and making plays that air on “SportsCenter” — and, perhaps more importantly, help his team win.

“It was fun to make a play like that,” Smith said. “And I hope to make many more.”

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

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