STANFORD – Stanford running back E.J. Smith is taking drastic measures to prepare for what he hopes is a breakout season.
The senior from Dallas – who shares the same number (22) as his Hall of Fame father, Emmitt – has sworn off Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and all other social media channels during training camp so he can focus on learning a new offensive system and rehabbing a meniscus tear that forced him to miss the final 10 games of last season.
“Coming back from injury, it’s important for me just to be focused on the right things, not to be distracted by anything, and really just get ready for the season,” Smith said. “Social media is such a big deal nowadays, everyone is on 24/7. Just to get away from it for a little bit, it’s good to get my mind refreshed. When I don’t have any notifications on Instagram, then I’m focused on the now.”
His little brother Elijah will text if E.J. needs to know something. But when five schools announced they were leaving the Pac-12, or when he was named to the watch list for the Doak Walker Award for the best running back in college football, EJ didn’t find out until he heard about it in the locker room after practice.
After playing a limited role his first two years at Stanford, Smith seemed poised for a big season when he entered 2022 as the starter. He had an 87-yard touchdown run on the Cardinal’s first play from scrimmage – tied for the fifth-longest run in program history – and then had 114 yards and two touchdowns the following week against USC.
But he suffered the season-ending injury against the Trojans and had to watch as Stanford finished a disappointing 3-9, leading coach David Shaw to resign after the final game.
New coach Troy Taylor said Smith is a great fit for his up-tempo offensive system.
“He’s really versatile, he’s really smart, he’s competitive,” Taylor said. “At that position, we use him in the backfield as a route-runner and to carry the ball, and he’s perfectly fit for that position.”
STANFORD, CA – APRIL 9: Stanford running back EJ Smith with his dad, pro football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, at the Stanford spring game April 9 2022.(Photo by Bob Drebin/ISIPhotos)
Smith played in a no-huddle offense in high school and said he was excited to run a more extensive variety of routes from the slot position in Taylor’s system.
The chance to showcase his versatility and play for Taylor – and being one year away from getting a degree from Stanford – were reasons that Smith didn’t join 17 of his former teammates who transferred out of the program following last season.
“I talked to my family about it, we prayed about it, and we thought it was the best decision to stay,” Smith said. “And also by the time I was leaving campus (in December), coach Taylor came in and I got a chance to talk to him and that really made me decide to stay, knowing what he does with his running backs and the position he puts his players in.”
Smith was still working his way back to 100 percent in the spring but says he’s fully healthy now. The running game will be particularly important for Stanford this season as they break in a new quarterback – three players are in the mix to replace Tanner McKee, who the Philadelphia Eagles drafted in the sixth round.
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Smith actually stayed off social media when he played varsity football in high school. He stopped that tradition when he got to Stanford, but restarted it during this critical adjustment period of learning the playbook and protection schemes while working with an offensive line with four new starters.
A science, technology, and society major, Smith will still watch videos on YouTube about business and investing, but he’ll wait another few weeks before checking his social feeds.
“Once camp is over I’ll be back on it for sure,” Smith said. “It’s difficult, but I know it’s the right thing to do.”