MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Asked where he intends to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood gave fair warning to his position coach Ja’Juan Seider
“I’ll probably be at Coach Seider’s house eating up all his food, because he cooks some good chicken and mac-n-cheese.”
In much bigger news, Smallwood suggested Seider should expect to set a plate for him in 2016 too.
After posting seven 100-yard performances this season and climbing to 14th nationally at 123.4 yards per game, Smallwood could be among the underclassmen making the jump to the NFL next spring. Considering the brief shelf-life afforded running backs, one blessed with Smallwood’s 4.4 burst and premium receiving skills would figure to be coveted in the upper half of the draft.
Yet on Tuesday afternoon, Smallwood essentially said he had no plans to enter the draft early.
“I’m just focused on finishing this season, and I know I’m going to be here for next season with these guys,” he said.
Yes, there’s time for Smallwood to change his mind between now and January. Who knows what impact a few more big performances—or some glowing NFL feedback in December—might have on the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder. Recall that Charles Sims (slightly larger, slightly slower, but with comparable ball skills) became a third-round pick after the 2013 season despite being a 24-year-old rookie. Smallwood turns 22 in January and doesn’t have as much game mileage on his legs.
He’s currently hot on the heels of another top junior for the Big 12 rushing title. Baylor’s Shock Linwood has 1,240 yards (6 more than Smallwood) and is averaging 124 per game.
“It goes back to the message that I told him as a freshman—not to take a backseat to anybody,” Seider said. “The thing with him is, what else can you do to motivate him? I told him that he was 6 yards shy of being the leading rusher in the Big 12, and he asked what else he could do to get that done.”
To that end, Seider called Smallwood “the best running back in the country when he runs 10 yards,” but challenged him to break more big-gainers by making safeties miss on the second level.
After 10 games, Smallwood’s 1,234 yards rank 11th on the West Virginia single-season list. He’s 16 behind Robert Walker (1993) for 10th and could jump past No. 7 Pat White (1,335 yards in 2007) by replicating his per-game average against Iowa State on Saturday.
Seider greatly prefers enjoying Smallwood’s current hot streak over discussing his NFL near-future.
“Man,” he said, “just let me be a good coach for a little while longer.”