For a quarterback, being in the right place at the right time is a crucial skill. Villanova’s Daniel Smith knows all about it.
Villanova had interest in Smith out of high school, but another QB in his class got to Villanova’s camp, impressed coaches, got a scholarship offer. Smith was told the school was good with just the one QB. He appreciated the candor, not stringing him along.
Smith, from Leesburg, Va., took the scholarship offer he had, from Campbell in the Big South conference, and made the most of it, redshirting for a season, dominating for two more, graduating in the process.
Was there someplace else he could go, a higher level? FBS-level programs didn’t show much interest. But Villanova, as it happened, had a wide-open competition.
Smith took that competition, and got off to a good start at Colgate, throwing for three scores, running for another. Managing the game smartly, according to Villanova head coach Mark Ferrante, whose team will host Lehigh Saturday evening.
Right time, right place.
Smith, “six foot on a good day,” is from the same hometown as Trace McSorley, another QB who maybe didn’t have all the measurables but did pretty well playing college ball in this state.
“He was in my conference," Smith said. “Same conference, different high school. … They keep building schools. He was a senior my sophomore year.”
They played that season, both were the starting QB.
“Oh, they won," Smith said. “They were pretty good. They won three state championships in a row. That year, they went back to the state championships and lost.”
Are there similarities to the way the two played quarterback?
“I think there are similarities to our stature," Smith said. “The way we play. He’s a tough kid. I guess tough man now. I feel like his whole life people have told him he’s too short.”
After his Penn State career, McSorley is with the Baltimore Ravens now.
“I’ve been told the same thing," Smith said.
Because they had mutual friends, Smith actually had talked to McSorley’s parents about the recruiting process. “His dad was helpful in being somebody I could question … just in passing.”
Beyond stature, both maybe share an ability to get passes to their intended targets.
“I feel like there’s a lot of hype around being 6-3, 6-4," Smith said. “Being able to see over the offensive line. I think just the understanding of football helps you see things as its unfolding. You can get a basis of where things start and where things finish based off how people are moving.”
Smith feels like he’s had strong coaching throughout his career. It helps if you can run around and extend plays with your feet. He does that and then some. In his two seasons at Campbell, Smith rushed for 1,940 yards, putting him second on that school’s all-time rushing list.
Why make a move? Smith said being able to get a degree from Villanova’s business school is a big deal. “Two, CAA football — it’s known as the SEC of FCS. It’s a strong conference. Everyone’s good. They put five teams in the playoffs every year. Just to be able to play in that competition level, it’s something I’ve sought after for a long time.”
At Campbell, “we did a lot of different things. We wanted to be a spread team that ran a lot of RPOs that pushed the ball downfield and took shots. … We did a lot of run schemes that included me.”
The biggest difference at Villanova, Smith said, is the athleticism — “especially up front. They’re just bigger, stronger kids. Just the difference between the CAA and the Big South. I’m not trying to bash anybody.”
Villanova coach Mark Ferrante made the point that having a new offensive coordinator, Chris Boden, maybe helped a new guy coming in since it put everyone on the same footing learning terminology. Smith said the fact that Boden was a QB (at Villanova, where he set the all-time passing yardage record) helps in teaching the offense.
“He knows what we see," Smith said. “He’s seen it before."
You have to be a step ahead as a QB, Smith said, studying more than anyone. He didn’t show up until the beginning of July. The other quarterbacks were “fantastic” in bringing him up to speed, not bitter or acting like they wouldn’t help the new guy.
“They took it head-on. They embraced the competition," Smith said. “At the same time, they didn’t shy away from the fact that we needed to work together in order to be the best room possible.”
The recruiting process was kind of quick this time after Smith entered the transfer portal. The visit was in the middle of June. He got up on the board with Boden, talked through the offense. It all went well. They offered with the contingency that he apply and get into grad school. That happened quickly.
That Colgate game — was it like riding a bike?
“Well, all camp, I’m going against our defense which I think is one of the top defenses in the country," Smith said. “Getting the ground game going early was huge.”
You look at Smith in a uniform, you don’t necessarily say — there’s the QB, look at him. Maybe that’s always been so.
“The first year I played, I think I was like a backup center and a linebacker or something," Smith said.
Soon enough, his arm got noticed.
“I like to think I have a better arm than people would think just seeing me walk around," Smith said. “I’m not a huge dude.”
They’re working on that, he added, trying to put some weight on.
“So I can stay alive in conference play," Smith said.