UND hopes Isaiah Smith has found the right size to produce special season

With former All-American Otis Weah departing in the offseason, the Fighting Hawks turn to Smith as the start as UND plays at the University of Nebraska on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

UND running back Isaiah Smith works for yardage as Drake defenders, Ty Scott, left, and Jeran Proctor try to tackle him near the endzone during a 2021 game. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — UND running back Isaiah Smith has spent a lot of his time in Grand Forks trying to get his body right.

He came to campus after suffering a season-ending injury his senior year of high school. That led to Smith arriving at UND at 230 pounds.

Smith then spent two months of the COVID-19 pandemic in a hotel as he piled up quarantine assignments.

"He came in at 230 pounds, overweight and out of shape," UND offensive coordinator Danny Freund said. "Then he was about 180 pounds and looked like a wide receiver. Now, he's 200 and stronger and faster. Hopefully, that leads to consistency playing week in and week out."

With UND losing former All-American running back Otis Weah in the offseason , the bulk of the Fighting Hawks' workload turns to Smith, who will open as the starter when UND plays at the University of Nebraska at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the Big Ten Network.


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Steve Crutchley, who was previously at Temple and Northern Illinois, spent one season in Grand Forks.

"There's been a natural development in a process of getting better and lot of that is habits in the weight room and taking care of his body," Freund said. "He's got a lot of talent but he's had some durability things where if he can clean that up and be consistent that way, he can be a pretty special player."

Smith appeared in eight games last season as a redshirt freshman, popping in two games Weah missed.

Smith finished with 356 yards on 52 carries with two touchdowns.

Smith ran for 125 yards on 12 carries against Drake. If there were doubts about the performance against a non-scholarship opponent, Smith put those to rest with 17 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown at Southern Illinois.

Smith caught eight passes for 67 yards and is expected to be utilized in the passing game more than Weah.

"I've been most impressed this fall with his pass protection and catching out of the backfield," Freund said. "We know he can run and make people miss, but he's become a complete player."

What makes Smith special is his suddenness as a runner, Freund said.

"His ability to stick his foot without losing speed is violent," Freund said. "He's slippery between the tackles and then can run away from you. Usually guys have one or the other but he has both."


Smith's ability to accelerate in and out of a cut is reminisicient of former UND greats John Santiago and Ryan Chappell, Freund said.

Chappell ran for more than 1,200 yards and 15 touchdowns as a rookie in 2006, while Santiago ran for more than 3,600 yards in his career from 2015-2018.

Smith said his body is feeling good heading into the 2022 season.

"I got my body right and am learning the plays a lot more," Smith said. "I was dealing with a lot of injuries but it healed up well. I know I have to keep working and help the team wherever I can."

Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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