Daniel Smith jokes about the play.
“It will probably be stuck with me forever,” Villanova’s quarterback said the other day.
Imagine the craziest What just happened there? touchdown pass you’ve seen, or even tried yourself on Madden. This was crazier. Smith couldn’t recreate it if he tried. (For the record, he hasn’t tried.)
I was at Villanova’s game against Delaware last spring, covering it, sitting in the stands, saw the play -- or thought I saw it. A bunch of former Villanova players were sitting close by. They had no more idea what they had just seen. Why is Smith raising his arms? Didn’t he just get sacked?
His postgame description, spot-on.
“As I’m rolling out, they covered everybody, and I’m getting chased down by one of their linebackers,” Smith said that day of his acrobatic effort after he was tripped up. “He went to tackle me and as I’m falling down, I just kind of threw it over my shoulder.”
What were the odds a no-look toss landed in the right hands?
“I couldn’t see anything that was in the end zone,” Smith had said in the postgame media conference. “As soon as it happened, I was like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no. That’s not good, that’s going to get picked.’ I got up and turned around and saw Charlie [Gilroy] catch it. I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes, we scored.”
He was not patting himself on the back.
“It went from being one of the stupidest decisions I think I’ve ever made to one of the most insane decisions I’ve ever made, all in maybe two seconds,” Smith said.
It went fully viral. Within hours, Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes was retweeting the play, commenting, “Man, that is some crazy stuff.” Mahomes got more than 22,000 likes.
After the game, back to the locker room, Smith looked at his phone.
“It kind of exploded,” Smith said, before friends started calling him.
“How did you do that?
“Dude, I don’t know. I just did it.”
The play lingers on, but that feeling of exhilaration? It didn’t last more than five minutes. That play had gotten Villanova within a score of Delaware. The Wildcats got the ball back. “First play, I throw a pick,” Smith said. “I’ve never had such a roller coaster.”
That didn’t just determine the game, but the season. Villanova was not going to make the NCAA FCS playoffs.
Here’s the thing, though. Villanova believes it is coming into this fall season a bit under the radar, ranked 16th nationally. Not disrespected. That’s where they probably belong after the spring, going into Saturday’s opener at Lehigh. Just capable of making a splash.
“I definitely think we’re going to be a little bit faster, a little bit more physical, a little more detail-oriented,” Smith said of the spring-to-fall transition.
Smith had shown up at Villanova as a transfer from Campbell, where he’d set school career records for total offense, rushing touchdowns, passing yards, and passing touchdowns. Now a graduate student, he’s in his sixth fall of college.
“I wasn’t going anywhere,” Smith said of whether he was automatically going to play this season, after a big 2019 season, no fall of 2020 football, just the abbreviated 2021 spring, that crazy play the most memorable thing that came from a four-game season.
“I’m not going to give away too much,” Smith said of where he sees Villanova’s offense this fall. “I think we’re in great shape, talent-wise.”
Lessons from that play?
“If anything, more so a reminder to myself, ‘Hey, even if people think the play is over, you never know.’ "