Adonis Smith determined to break through

Adonis Smith got to work right after the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

As one disappointing season ended, disappointing on a personal level for him anyway, the running back promised his senior year would be different.

This spring he has shown the ability to make his final season at UNLV one to remember for the right reasons.

“He knows he’s got one last shot,” coach Bobby Hauck said. “Adonis is a competitive guy, and we expect him to be fired up when he comes out here.”

Smith transferred to UNLV in 2012 after beginning his career at Northwestern. He sat out that season under NCAA transfer rules, and was expected to be an integral part of the running game last season behind starter Tim Cornett.

His own expectations were high. Smith had hoped to push Cornett and at least be a strong contributor as the No. 2 back.

But Smith struggled to find his place on the depth chart, carrying the ball just 28 times and gaining 70 yards, averaging only 2.5 yards per carry.

“As a competitor, you want to be a part of it,” Smith said. “Not being a part of it, it hurt. That’s why I came out this spring ball with a whole other mindset. I don’t want to have any doubt, I don’t want to have any reason why I shouldn’t be out there. So I’ve been pushing myself to another level.”

Shortly after the Rebels lost 36-14 to North Texas in the New Year’s Day bowl, Smith got busy making himself more fit.

The 5-foot-11-inch, 203-pound back worked to improve his strength and quickness. Smith, who already is fast and has been timed at about 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, also made the effort to improve his running mechanics.

And in addressing what he called part of his “downfall,” Smith put in time to get better at blocking.

“There’s not too much I can do to change my game,” he said. “It’s more what I can do to enhance my game — the stuff I have now, making it better.”

The work is obvious this spring, with Smith routinely breaking big runs.

He has shown this potential before, rushing for 71 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in last year’s spring game. But that was one day. Smith’s production this spring has been over a longer span.

“I know the work that I’m putting in toward (the season) is going to pay off, and I hope (the coaches) see it,” Smith said.

The competition at running back, however, is wide open.

Four players — Smith, senior Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, sophomore Keith Whitely and redshirt freshman Henri Jussila — are participating in the Rebels’ most competitive position battle.

One clear winner probably won’t emerge, at least not by the time of the Aug. 29 season opener at Arizona. UNLV most likely will go to a rotation system, and the fight is fierce to occupy the top two or three spots.

At some point, though, Hauck would like to turn the position over to primarily one back, like he did the two previous seasons when Cornett took over and eventually became the school’s all-time leading rusher.

Smith isn’t lacking for confidence, saying he can “easily” rush for 1,000 yards if given the opportunity.

He wasn’t given that chance last season.

Maybe next season will be different.

He is putting in the work, saying his effort is “times by 10” compared to the past.

“I know this is my last go-around, so I have to give it my all,” Smith said. “Last season was very disappointing to me, and I don’t want that to happen again.”

■ NOTE — UNLV will scrimmage at 9:45 a.m. today at Rebel Park. The Rebels have just one more week of spring practices.

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter @markanderson65.

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