VU hopes to ride Smith-Umoh connection

Friday, August 21, 2009 at 12:15am

They have yet to stir any memories of Montana-to-Rice or Bradshaw-to-Swann or Unitas-to-Berry and — truth be told — the expectations of Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith and wide receiver Udom Umoh are much more realistic than that.

“Me and him were comparing ourselves to Earl (Bennett) and Chris Nickson,” Smith said. “Udom wore No. 3 in high school and I wore No. 10, and Chris and Earl were Nos. 3 and 10 (respectively) so we were comparing ourselves to them.”

That was two years ago when they first arrived on campus. This fall, they’ll set out to match the numbers of Bennett and Nickson in another regard.

Bennett’s best season was 2006 when he caught 82 passes for 1,146 yards (the most by a VU receiver in nearly two decades). That also was Nickson’s first season as the Commodores’ starting quarterback.

The following fall Smith and Umoh enrolled as freshmen, and although each was redshirted that season they laid the foundation for what they hope will make them a productive passing combination for years to come.

With Bennett in the NFL and Nickson having played his last game in 2008, Smith and Umoh are in line to be starters this season and — if all goes well — for two more after that.

“I think we’ve always been kind of close,” Umoh said. “Freshman year we were actually roommates. We didn’t (ask) for that, but scout team brought us together and it just happened.”

The pair served notice of what they might be able to accomplish together in the Music City Bowl at the end of last season.

Umoh was Vanderbilt’s leading receiver in the historic victory over Boston College when he had three receptions for 29 yards. They were the first catches of his career, and he made them in addition to four tackles on special teams.

Smith started for the first time and was one of three Commodores’ quarterbacks who played in that contest. He was the only one of the three who completed any passes, though, as he went 10-for-17 for 121 yards.

“We talked about our class, the 2011 class, and said we were going to make a difference,” Umoh said. “We talked about it after the (bowl) game. We said, ‘That’s just the beginning.’”

Their connection extends beyond where they slept as freshmen. Udom’s parents are both in education as is Smith’s father. Both also played for state championship programs in high school — Smith in Alabama and Umoh in Georgia.

Of course, each also has had to wait his turn.

“It’s real exciting being that we came in the same year and we were like, ‘Man, we can’t wait to get on the field,” Smith said. “Right now we can’t wait. …It’s kind of exciting now that we both have a good chance to get on the field this year.”

Then they’ll be able to see whether they can measure up to their own goals.