The speed University of Akron wide receiver Kwadarrius Smith uses when he runs track for the Zips is serving him well in his football career.

Smith, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound redshirt freshman, has developed into a legitimate and consistent deep ball threat for coach Terry Bowden. With the conference schedule looming, that represents a much-needed element for the Zips

“He gives us speed,” quarterback Thomas Woodson said. “He stretches the field like no other [on the team]. He’s just using his speed to his advantage.”

It definitely fills a void with the departure of JoJo Natson, who is currently on the New York Jets’ practice squad. That couldn’t have worked out any better for Smith, he said. He viewed Natson, a speedy kick returner, receiver, as a role model.

“I just looked at him as a role model and thought maybe some of the stuff he did I should do,” Smith said.

Smith has the longest play from scrimmage this season, a 45-yard touchdown reception from Woodson in the loss to Iowa State. He has 13 receptions for 240 yards (18.5 yards per reception) with two touchdowns.

For Smith, it’s just a matter of patience and waiting for his opportunity.

“A lot of plays that are going to him went to JoJo Natson. Kwadarrius has really come along,” Bowden said.

That threat of a deep ball can allow the Zips offense to do other things from the line of scrimmage, such as running the ball effectively and opening up the intermediate passing game. Given the quest for balance on offense this year, it’s an invaluable threat.

It helps that he has chemistry with Woodson, the quarterback said.

“Me and him got to be on the same page,” Woodson said. “He’s going to play a lot more and he’s going to be in there, so we have to get the chemistry done. There’s no choice.”

The team also benefits from Smith’s evolution as a player.

“I have more of a mental aspect of the game,” he said. “I understand the X’s and O’s more, whereas last year I was playing behind a lot of good receivers. I was just learning from them and just getting chemistry down with quarterbacks and buying into things”

And now?

“This year, I feel like I’m more focused,” he said. “I know that everyone is depending on me, just as well as depending on everyone else.”

His mental preparation comes from a different place as does the willingness to be depended upon. He had to learn to depend on others growing up.

“I tend to look at the past. I grew up in 13 different foster homes [six years], so I look at the past and just know that God brought me here for a reason, and it’s just something I feel like I need to do,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got a calling. That’s what gets me ready for the game.”

He didn’t have a support system that included two parents. He doesn’t currently know where his mother is, and his father is incarcerated.

“It’s just one of those things that’s unfortunate,” he said. “They had me. They couldn’t take care of me. Things are getting better. I’m here now.”

Yet, he is thriving.

“I saw a lot of things my parents did and a lot of things people in my family did, and I knew that’s not what I wanted, since I was a kid,” Smith said. “So I had to make an effort on my own to get up and do the right things. I had help along the way ... I just knew being around successful people made me want to be successful.”

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ.