CANTON, Ohio– It's a funny thing to hear from an NFL veteran, but Rod Smith insists it's true.
It's been a while since he'd carried the ball as many times as he did in Thursday's 20-18 win against Arizona.
"Since high school," he said in the postgame locker room.
It's a strange thing to hear from a guy entering his third year in the league – a guy who wound up at a football factory like Ohio State. But it helps explain why Smith ran with such determination, and how he wound up as the game's leading rusher.
"I was eager. I was fired up. I didn't want to come out," he said. "When they finally pulled me out, I didn't want to come out at all. But for the most part, I felt like I did decent. Still got a lot more to do."
For those that have followed this team, Smith's 18 carries for 64 yards is simply a continuation of what has been a strong year to this point. The former fullback converted back to running back and had a solid spring, and he has followed that up by being one of the Cowboys' most consistent performers during training camp.
His performances have been good enough that Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said it was a priority to get Smith significant touches in a game environment.
"We wanted to give the bulk of the snaps at running back to Rod," Garrett said. "He got a lot of snaps, he got a lot of carries in the game. I thought he handled himself well."
That's a pretty fair assessment. Smith fought for the hard yardage, he bounced runs to the outside and he added three receptions for 25 yards. He even capped the evening off by hurdling a Cardinals defender, dubbing it a "Zeke leap" after his college and professional teammate.
"He's playing with more and more confidence, and you see that," Garrett said. "It wasn't always pretty, but I thought he handled himself well – both in the run game and the pass game."
It's just a start to what will be a long preseason, but it's definitely an encouraging one. Smith said he was happy just to get a win – but it had to have felt good to get the ball back in his hands.
"I just feel comfortable, being back at running back," he said. "When I get the ball in my hands, I feel like I can always do something special – something good can always happen when I've got it."