In the front row of the Colorado team meeting room this winter, running back Deion Smith watched as the most talked about scene in the college football offseason unfolded before him.
His new head coach, Deion Sanders, walked in with about 15 cameramen following him — primed to capture everything and blast it on social media. Sanders started by telling everyone in the room they might not have a seat after spring ball. He said he was going to change everything about the program. And as he left, he delivered the line that would go viral, “I’m bringing my own luggage, and it’s Louis.”
Smith had seen three coaching changes at Colorado. But he’d never seen anything like this.
“I’m getting texts and calls because people were like, ‘Oh, I saw what they said,’” Smith said, noting people recognized him in the viral videos for his green beanie. “Everybody had the chance to give their take. It caught me off guard. We had been through it with other coaches, but this was on a bigger scale.”
Eventually, Smith would join the exodus of players who left Colorado, transferring to BYU in search of a fresh start.
But throughout spring camp in Boulder, Smith continued to watch the sport’s lightning rod. Sanders tore down the roster to its studs, opening up nearly 70 scholarships. Every new coach has some roster turnover, but very rarely is the overhaul so drastic and so public. Coaches don’t typically say they are cutting players — even if they effectively are. Sanders said the quiet part out loud, holding meetings with players as the weeks passed.
“A lot of younger players called me in a panic, just telling me, ‘They called me into the office. They told me basically, I won’t be playing here,’” Smith recalled.
Smith made it through spring camp as one of the few that could stay as the team’s leading rusher. But he saw the coverage daily. Some stories he agreed with, some he didn’t.
Eventually Smith decided to leave too. He felt the offense didn’t suit him — especially with his pass-catching abilities — and wanted more stability. He didn’t leave because of Sanders; it was his own choice.
“Everybody’s situation is a little bit different,” Smith said. “It’s a little frustrating whenever you read something in the media, especially when you’re on the inside, and they got all these different opinions thinking that coach is getting rid of all of these guys. And that’s not even the situation at all, you know?
“There’s a lot of people that just didn’t like the direction the program was going. There was a lot of people who were frustrated with their current position. There’s a lot of people that was just frustrated with the change of coaches over and over and over again. And so for me, I wanted to go somewhere a little bit more solidified.”
So with that in the backdrop, BYU has its newest running back. Smith entered the portal in late April and announced his plans to come to BYU by mid-May. He thought about a handful of schools: Houston, FIU and Cal. But BYU made the most sense.
Smith ran for over 300 yards and two touchdowns last year. He also had 11 receptions for 84 yards. He prides himself on his ability to used in the screen game and the Cougars needed that.
Last year, BYU relied heavily on Puka Nacua, a wide receiver, to be the main option on screens. Now, BYU can get that out of the backfield. When Smith talked to offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, he mentioned a desire to have a running back like that.
“He’s ready to get back into that world of screens for running back,” Smith said. “He told me he kind of gravitated away from it just because he didn’t feel like he had the right personnel for it.”
Smith joins a crowded room. UNLV transfer Aidan Robbins is the presumed starter. Hinckley Ropati and Miles Davis are also there waiting. LJ Martin, a newcomer, will join the mix. But the hope is that Smith brings something slightly different from the downhill back, like Ropati, or pure speed, like Davis.
But regardless of that, Smith feels more at ease in Provo. He is from Houston and will get to play in his home state several times. At Colorado, he never played in Texas in three years. He thought about transferring to Houston, but was persuaded against it after hearing things about the program’s direction he didn’t like.
Beyond that, he liked the stability he could find in Provo. The offensive coaches have been in place for multiple seasons and it is a creative system. And coming from Colorado, that might just be what he needed.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say it was chaotic,” Smith said. “But it was more seen, you know, like, all of these things happening for everyone to see. I just wanted some stability.”