HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - "First of all, that guy is amazing," said USM junior linebacker Jeremy Sangster. "Amazing. When he gets the ball, it's like he do magic."
"Sometimes he's magical with the ball in his hands," said USM head coach Jay Hopson. "He really is. You say, 'Oh he's tackled.' And then he pops out and there he goes.
Shifty, elusive, maybe even magical at times is Ito Smith with the football.
The Southern Miss running back enters his senior season as the "X-factor" for the Golden Eagle offense.
"I remember one time in practice [Smith] came to the gap that I was going to," Sangster said. "Next thing you know, he put his foot in the ground and went the other way about 30 yards. I said, 'Wow.' His vision is unbelievable."
"You remember Damion Fletcher years back?" Hopson said. "Damion kind of reminded me a little bit of [Smith]. You say sometimes they're stopped and then they pop out. There they go, touchdown. Ito's got that same special thing. He can make something out of nothing."
With the same No. 25 on their backs, maybe it's not a surprise Smith is compared to USM's all-time leading rusher Fletcher.
After rushing for 1,459 yards last year, the 3rd-most in a single season at Southern Miss, Smith is just 2,179 yards away from Fletcher's school-record 5,302 rushing yards. Smith's 469 receving yards in 2016 put him at 1,918 all-purpose yards, the second-most in a single season at USM behind Sam Dejarnette's 1,982 in 1982.
While he needs less than 500 yards to move into second place on the school's career rushing list, Smith is only focused on helping the Golden Eagles be the best they can be.
"Just working as hard as I can so I don't have any regrets," Smith said. "Just giving it all I got and trying to be a leader to the younger guys. They look up to us, the older guys. Just let them know you got to work hard."
"If you know Ito, he's a humble guy," Hopson said. "I think he knows he's got to work for everything. I don't think he's one of those guys who likes the flash and glam of everything. I think he knows he's got to put his head down and go to work."
At 5-foot-10, Smith may be undersized but he's not underrated. The Mobile, Alabama native was named to the Doak Walker and Maxwell Award watch lists this summer.
Smith knows that remaining humble is necessary to help Southern Miss win ball games and eventually realize his dream of playing in the NFL.
"That's why I work hard," Smith said. "[The NFL] is the ultimate goal. If that happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't. It's just God's plan, I'm just trusting in Him. Just doing what I can, just working hard. I just know I have to go out there and perform. I just have to perform."