Speedy Gophers freshman cornerback Terell Smith off to a fast start
MINNEAPOLIS — The first name of the Gophers' true freshman starting cornerback is spelled with one "R," not two.
Notre Dame learned that the hard way.
Terell Smith committed to Minnesota's 2018 recruiting class when he was a junior in Snellville, Ga., in March 2017. As a senior last fall, he received a lot of attention from other schools, including the Fighting Irish.
But Notre Dame slipped up in October when it sent him a graphic that misspelled his name. Smith posted it on Twitter, and once it was called out, he replied: "The (graphic) was cool. That's why I posted it but Coach Fleck never (spelled) my name wrong. Just saying."
As recruiting interest in Smith heated up — including other reported offers from Michigan State, Louisville and Florida — Gophers coach P.J. Fleck kept trying to get a read on the firmness of his oral commitment.
"There wasn't much wavering, and he always told us, 'Why are you so worried? Why do you keep asking me about that? You know I'm coming there,'" Fleck said. "I'm like, 'No, I don't think you're coming here.'"
In the end, P.J. Fleck credited Smith's "pretty concrete" commitment, and this fall, the talented freshman has been a solid contributor through two games.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound cornerback is second on the team with 16 total tackles, including one for lost yards. In last week's 21-14 victory over Fresno State, he followed a crossing route nearly the width of the field and stepped in front of the Bulldogs receiver for his first career interception.
Smith has four pass breakups in two starts, which is one off the Gophers' high of five in 12 games last season.
Against Fresno State standout KeeSean Johnson in the fourth quarter, Smith was targeted in coverage on a deep pass, but he cooly reached out and batted the pass away before it reached Johnson.
"He made it look so effortless," said FS1 color commentator Ben Leber.
Speed is Smith's top attribute. As a junior at South Gwinnett High School, he won the Georgia state championship in the 100-meter dash with a time of 10.39 seconds. As a sophomore, he won the 200-meter state title in 21.26. His 200 personal best of 20.84 was the fifth best time in the country last year, and his 100 PR is 10.32.
"Terell had a lot of places that he could have went," Fleck said. "And I think you see the difference of — that (speed) is what we are going after" in recruiting.
The Gophers correlated his track times to show he is the "fastest Big Ten corner commit since 2010."
"His speed is incredible," Fleck said. "He needs a lot of work on his fundamentals and technique, which (secondary) coach (Jahmile) Addae is working on him with every day. He's only been here three months. The kid has only been here three months. To be able to play that well, that early just shows what's coming."
His nickname is "T-Time," and during the early national signing period last December, Fleck promoted that moniker and offered another more traditional one.
"'The Flash!'" Fleck said. "That's what he is; he's 'The Flash.'"
Gophers defensive coordinator Robb Smith said Terell won the starting job in training camp and has exceeded any sort of early benchmarks through two games.
"You never put a lot of expectations on a young football player, but you try to help him grow and develop every day; that is the one thing that he's embraced," Robb said. "I think the most impressive thing about him is every time he shows up in the facility, he wants to change his best and become a better football player."