As recently as a month ago, Dreamius Smith had to convince himself to stay positive.
The season had reached its midway point and Smith, a senior West Virginia running back, was barely playing. He had rushed for 109 yards in six games, and he had fallen so far down the depth chart that the climb back up seemed impossible.
Daily calls to his mother, Mary Chiles, were one of the few things that kept him motivated.
“She just told me to keep my head up and that everyone was praying for me,” Smith said during a phone interview. “I took that to heart. I worked too hard to keep my head down, so I went in there and gave it my all. I just needed an opportunity.”
Smith, a Wichita Heights and Butler Community College product, got an opportunity in his next game when Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood suffered injuries. Instead of fighting for late-game carries with other backups, Smith was suddenly thrust into a meaningful role.
He responded by rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown in an upset victory over Baylor. Then he totaled 72 yards and a touchdown against Oklahoma State. After that, he put up 70 yards and a touchdown against TCU. Finally, he ran for 100 yards and a touchdown against Texas.
He has rushed for 302 yards and four touchdowns in West Virginia’s last four games. Best of all, he has done so on 40 carries — 7.6 yards per carry.
“I knew once I got that opportunity, I was going to take off,” Smith said. “I was still in the game picking up big yards and just knowing it wouldn’t be hard to break off long runs like that. It’s the nature of football. Once you get a hot hand, you can really get going.”
Smith has done exactly that, reeling off runs of at least 40 yards in three straight games. Smith, a 6-foot, 217-pounder, is proving difficult to bring down. He could be West Virginia’s top running back when it faces Kansas State on Thursday night (6 p.m. on Fox Sports 1) at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va.
“We are looking to get him the ball a little bit more,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.
Smallwood and Shell have failed to match Smith’s recent production, and Smith is the freshest running back of the group. Though both Smallwood (585) and Shell (560) have rushed for more yards than Smith (411), they have required more than double his attempts.
Smith was also efficient last season, rushing for 494 yards and five touchdowns in 103 carries as the backup to Charles Sims.
“The biggest thing with Dreamius is just taking advantage of his opportunities,” Holgorsen said. “We have some good backs that have been productive for us this year. He was a little disappointed early when he wasn’t the starter, but it didn’t prevent him from working hard.
“He got the opportunity to go in there and make plays, and he has. I am proud of the way he has responded this year in a different role. He has been productive.”
Smith hopes to remain productive in West Virginia’s final two games. Growing up alongside several current K-State players in Wichita, he is motivated to go out with a bang against them on West Virginia’s senior night. And a closing victory at Iowa State could boost the Mountaineers’ bowl stock.
Mostly, though, Smith is just hoping to continue his run of strong play.
He wants to stay positive until his college career ends.
“I got off to a slow start, but that’s not something that is worrying me in my head right now,” Smith said. “I am having a great year. I wouldn’t change anything.”