MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota senior running back Rodney Smith will miss the remainder of the season because of an injury to his left knee, removing the most accomplished player from an inexperienced offense.
Smith was hurt on the third play of the game on Saturday night against Fresno State, at the end of an 11-yard gain on a screen pass. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck announced the news on Monday and said the university will request a medical redshirt and a sixth year of eligibility in 2019 for Smith, who already has his undergraduate degree in human development and youth studies.
"We believe Rodney meets all the requirements for the waiver and fully expect that it will be granted," Fleck said.
Already seventh in program history with 2,959 career rushing yards, Smith was also the team's primary kickoff returner. Tied for ninth all-time for Minnesota with 21 career rushing touchdowns, Smith won the team's Bronko Nagurski Award for the most valuable player in both 2016 and 2017.
"I am devastated for Rodney, but I know he will keep his oar in the water and continue to move forward and attack his rehabilitation process," Fleck said. "He is a leader on this team, and I look forward to him working with our young players as we continue to grow this season."
The soft-spoken and quick-to-smile Smith, a native of the Atlanta area, had taken on an increased leadership role this fall with a true freshman walk-on starting at quarterback (Zack Annexstad) and two freshmen starting at wide receiver (Rashod Bateman and Demetrius Douglas). Fleck even called Smith one of the team's most improved players, despite his already decorated resume.
"I am a youth studies major, so I kind of look at it like doing youth work even though they are my teammates," Smith said last week before his injury. "Youth work occurs at many different levels, even peers, so I look at it as a chance to use what I learn in the classroom and put it to use. I think it's helping me out."
Shannon Brooks, who has largely shared the ball-carrying load with Smith since they were both freshmen in 2015, has already received a medical redshirt for a knee injury he suffered during offseason training. Brooks could actually return for some action later in 2018, considering the NCAA's new rule that allows a player to preserve a year of eligibility as long as he plays in no more than four games.
The Gophers (2-0) host Miami of Ohio this weekend, before traveling to Maryland for their Big Ten opener on Sept. 22. Redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim, who started the season as Smith's backup, hurt his left leg injury in the opener and did not play against Fresno State. True freshman Bryce Williams took over as the lead ball-carrier and had 87 yards on 25 attempts.