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Northwestern’s Adonis Smith says he can be a yell of a player

EvanstSaturday November 13 2010 Northwestern's Adonis Smith gets swallowed up by Iowdefense during third quarter Ryan Field Saturday. | Curtis

Evanston, Saturday November 13, 2010 Northwestern's Adonis Smith gets swallowed up by the Iowa defense during the third quarter at Ryan Field on Saturday. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 9, 2011 12:51PM

Adonis Smith would rather have someone yell at him than have to listen to praise.

“I was talking to my dad about that,” Smith said. “I respond better when it’s negative because it pushes me. And when something is just given to me, I just ease off the pedal.”

So maybe it helped that Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald called out the sophomore running back and backfield mate Mike Trumpy during the latter portion of training camp in August. Fitzgerald decided about two weeks into camp that senior Jacob Schmidt was going to be the Wildcats’ No. 1 tailback on the depth chart, leaving Trumpy and Smith out in the cold.

“I was very [ticked] off,” Smith said. “My mind-set on the field was to get out of the doghouse; that was the first thing. I had it in the back of my mind that I wasn’t doing right, and I felt like I needed to be more consistent like Jacob so I could be ‘The Guy.’ Part of it has to do with age, but another part is just being mature and knowing what role to take.”

Based on how Smith didn’t get into shape in the offseason, he may have seen the demotion coming.

“Conditioning has always been a big problem for me,” Smith said. “I didn’t think I took it very seriously as they wanted me to. If I took the conditioning more seriously, I would have been in better shape for the start of the season.”

Smith is slowly climbing back up the depth chart and had a decent outing in the Wildcats’ season opener at Boston College on Saturday, rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. The running back-by-committee that Fitzgerald used in Boston gained 227 yards between Smith, Trumpy, Schmidt, quarterback Kain Colter, Jeremy Ebert and Treyvon Green.

And even Fitzgerald acknowledged that since training camp, Smith has been getting better.

“He’s getting in better shape, and he has to squeeze the ball up, and I thought he played pretty well on Saturday, but he can’t have the offseason like he had and expect to compete and start,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s gaining on it. We have a competitive situation, and [Smith] found himself in the back of the line. And that’s his problem, not mine.”

No timetable for Persa

“I’m right around the corner, and I feel better than I did last week,” quarterback Dan Persa said after practice Tuesday.

It’s getting to be a common phrase when he’s asked about the right Achilles tendon that has kept him out of the Wildcats’ last four games, dating to the Nov. 27, 2010, game at Wisconsin. He certainly seems like he’s tired of answering questions about his right foot.

Persa sat out the Wildcats’ 24-17 opening victory, and even though the news wasn’t made public until a couple of hours before game time, he was listed as questionable on the team’s injury report last Thursday. Persa also said that he knew early last week that he wouldn’t be able to play.

So if he plays even one down against Eastern Illinois this Saturday, it may be a surprise to many. And don’t even think about whether he’ll play Sept. 17 at Army.

“When I’m ready, I’ll play, and I’m not putting a timetable on that right now,” Persa said.

But back in the spring, a mere four months after he ruptured the tendon and had surgery, Persa seemed to be convinced that he’d be ready to play in Boston. The roadblock is taking that first explosive step out of the pocket and moving forward and backward. Moving laterally isn’t a problem.

“I thought I’d be ready, but it’s slower than I thought,” Persa said. “I can take somebody through rehab [of the Achilles] for sure with all the things I have done. And I learned a lot from the process.”

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