Dalvin Smith is ready to come back strong from injury once again.
The Glasgow graduate and Western Kentucky tight end has been back on the field at Houchens-Smith Stadium this spring for the Hilltoppers after seeing his 2020 season cut short because of a broken leg.
"It feels amazing to be back out there with my teammates again," Smith said. "I'm just trying to help us get better every day."
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound redshirt freshman saw his first significant action at the college level last fall and was coming on strong before the injury, playing in five games and catching four passes for 58 yards. Two of those were for scores – a 24-yard reception in the team's home opener against Liberty and a 26-yarder in a homecoming loss to Marshall.
He also played against UAB and Chattanooga the following two weeks, but was injured midway through the first quarter against the Mocs.
Now, he's back and has been making plays throughout spring for the Hilltoppers.
"It's good to have him back out there," said WKU co-offensive coordinator/inside receivers coach Bryan Ellis, who served as offensive coordinator the last two seasons. "It is a complete joy to coach Dalvin Smith. He's, first off, a phenomenal human being, a phenomenal kid. I'd adopt him as my son if his family would let him. That's how much I think about him.
"Football-wise, he's a freak. He's 6-2, maybe even pushing 6-3, he's 190 pounds. He runs close to 22 mph. He's got a great catch radius, he's got really long arms, long limbs, he can really jump. He was a great basketball player in high school. The thing for him is the learning curve."
Smith's comeback is just the latest in a string of adversity he's had to overcome during his football career.
His sophomore season with the Scotties was cut short by a knee injury five games in after he tallied 107 yards on nine receptions. After recovering from that injury, Smith suffered another injury leading into his junior year.
Smith returned his senior year and did it all for the Scotties. He started the season at quarterback and threw for 916 yards and 13 touchdowns on 66 of 137 passing, before Tanner Abernathy took over primary quarterback responsibilities in mid-October. Smith rushed for 433 yards and six touchdowns on 41 carries that season and caught 16 passes for 400 yards and seven touchdowns. Defensively, he had 22 tackles and three interceptions.
"You get a bad rap sometimes with these injury guys of, 'OK, I pulled my hamstring, I've done this, I've done that,' but Dalvin's injuries are a broken leg and just stuff that's not a knock on him type deal," Ellis said. "He's out there busting his butt playing ball last year in the game and I remember it was a home game and we're running wide there to the left and he breaks his leg. That's ball. That's part of playing football. That's the risk you take when you play. That's not a knock on Dalvin, as tough as he is to come back as fast as he did."
Smith signed with WKU in February 2018 and grayshirted while taking classes at WKU's Glasgow campus and focusing on gaining weight – he went in around 170 pounds, according to Jeff Garmon, his high school coach. He joined the team the following winter and practiced at receiver before later being moved to tight end. In 2019, he appeared in four games primarily in a special teams role and redshirted.
The latest setback wasn't going to stop him, though. Smith said there was a lot of time spent in the training room with associate athletic trainer Jessica Judd and assistant athletic trainer Russell Smothermon during the remainder of the season until he was ready to return to the field.
"Me being the youngest out of all of my brothers and sisters and watching them grow up and seeing them play throughout college and stuff, now it's my chance so I'm not going to let a little injury stop me from being where I'm at now," Smith said.
WKU is planning to play a more up-tempo style of offense under new coordinator Zach Kittley, with an emphasis on throwing the ball around – including more shots down the field.
Smith wasted no time showing his quickness in his return. He notched the fourth-best top speed in WKU's first spring practice at 20.5 mph, according to numbers posted by the WKU Football Recruiting Twitter account. He's been in the top five three times since with a top mark of 22.1 mph on those days.
"I really like what I'm seeing out there. Dalvin's a very, very young, explosive player. When he's out there playing, he plays fast, he has big-play ability," WKU head coach Tyson Helton said. "It was unfortunate that he got hurt early in the season last year, but he really fits well in the offensive scheme that we're doing now. I really think that he's thriving in it. Knock on wood, hopefully he stays healthy, but I'm hoping he has a big year for us this year. I could see him being a big part of this offense."
Smith got a taste of seeing significant action at the beginning of last season before the injury, and is hoping to continue adding weight and staying healthy ahead of the 2021 season. WKU is scheduled to kick off its spring game at 1 p.m. Saturday and is scheduled to open the regular season Sept. 2 against UT Martin at Houchens-Smith Stadium.
"I learned just the transition from high school to college is way different – last season, that was me transitioning into college. With the injury, it cut it short," Smith said. "Now, since I'm back, I'm ready for full 100% college."