TALLAHASSEE — Florida State senior tailback Antone Smith admitted that he was disappointed in himself last season.
It wasn't that he didn't work hard. He did and always has. But he came to realize he wasn't smart about how he prepared, failing to stress the finer points — making the right cut at the right time, reading his blockers and defenders, hitting the hole faster and with more determination.
"I took a different approach," he said during Sunday's media day. "It's not necessarily working on running the ball harder, it's having an attitude behind it, having a purpose to it."
The 5-foot-9, 190-pounder from Pahokee too often was hit in the backfield and dropped on the spot. Although he battled a turf toe from two-a-days, then a shoulder injury, the coaches publicly challenged him to be tougher.
He had a career-high 156 yards on 17 carries in the Music City Bowl loss to Kentucky and used that as a springboard in the offseason, spending more time studying film than ever before and doing drills that would improve his footwork.
No more relying on speed, which carried him to star status in high school.
"I just want to block everything else out and focus on my craft and do the little things right," said Smith, explaining why he had declined interviews essentially since the bowl game.
So far, the coaches like what they've seen from him, especially offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher, who prefers taller, bigger backs and signed a number of them.
"It's Antone's job to lose," he said. "I've been very pleased with the way he's practiced. He's had a super summer, and he looks better than he's ever looked in my opinion."
Coach Bobby Bowden echoed that sentiment, Smith's leaving practice early on Saturday with a bit of dehydration notwithstanding.
"It looks like he's worked harder," he said.
But that's got to pay off now. Smith ran for 819 yards, the 11th straight year the Seminoles haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher (Warrick Dunn had 1,180 in 1996), and three touchdowns, the fewest scores by the top rusher since Tiger McMillon had three in 1992.
"I'm just trying to be the ultimate back," Smith said. "I don't want to have to any flaws this year."
No magic number: While he knows his coaching days are numbered, Bowden reiterated he has no desire to retire, but what would happen if there's another mediocre season? "It would be very bad to have another 7-6 season," he said. "Not showing any improvement. But I hate to pin down a number (it would take for him to retire) in case it happens."
It can be told: Safety Myron Rolle and quarterback Christian Ponder both graduated early on Saturday and led the crowd in singing the national anthem. They lip-synched it. "We started the first line, and then we backed away 'cause we wanted the crowd to pick up because Christian and I can't sing," Rolle said.
He said it: "We haven't had a star around here in a long time. I'm talking about a star. You go out there and play a game and if it's close, he's going to win the game. When I was at West Virginia, Pitt was our big rival. We had Pitt's number (two straight and five of six), and then they went out and recruited a guy named Tony Dorsett. Dorsett would get a long one every game. Seventy yards. Sixty yards. He got three (touchdown runs) against us his first year (a 35-7 win in 1973). … One player, a lot of times, can make the difference." Bowden, on the Seminoles' inability to win close games.