Oh, what a rush

JONATHAN HUNTINGTON -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

VANCOUVER -- Joe Smith is no ordinary Joe.

In the last two weeks, the B.C. Lion running back has turned heads across the league with back-to-back smashing performances.

Given the undisputed starting assignment from head coach Wally Buono before battling Calgary on July 21, Smith has rushed for 217 yards over the last two games, with five rushing touchdowns and another major from six receptions.

To put that in perspective, the production from just those two games has put the 26-year-old import in a tie for second in the league for overall majors and puts him first on the TD rushing chart.

But while Smith's remarkable entrance onto the CFL stage has surprised people across the league, Edmonton Eskimo general manager Paul Jones isn't stunned.

In fact, Smith has been on the Eskimo radar screen for six years - and could have become a member of the Green and Gold if the timing had worked.

"We knew all about him," said Jones.

"I have known about him since junior college.

"And I felt he would be a good (running) back.

ON THE NEGOTIATION LIST

"We were going to put him on the neg list a couple of times, but somebody (in the CFL) put him on (their list) and then took him off, but another team put him right on and kept him."

Every CFL team has a neg list, which contains players that another team can sign.

It's actually no surprise that Jones was tracking Smith as a potential Eskimo, as the powerful back was born in Monroe, Louisiana, which is where Jones is based.

From that beginning in the southern United States, Smith really started to make noise on the football scene last winter when he was sent to NFL Europe by the Tennessee Titans and promptly ripped apart the circuit.

While with the Rhein Fire, he was NFL Europe's 2005 leading rusher, piling up 1,026 yards to make him the second-leading, single-season rusher in the league's history.

But that didn't translate into a job in Tennessee when the Europe season finished, which paved his way to Vancouver and into the middle of a divorce this summer between Antonio Warren and Lions head coach Wally Buono.

After the Lions lost to the Eskimos at Commonwealth Stadium four weeks ago, it seemed that Buono had lost confidence in Warren to run the ball on critical plays.

And when Warren missed a crucial blocking assignment the next week against Saskatchewan that allowed linebacker Jackie Mitchell to take a wicked, but free, shot at star quarterback Dave Dickenson, Warren's days in Vancouver were over.

HE WAS HANDED THE JOB

Smith was handed the job - and he hasn't looked back.

"He was put in a tough spot, taking the place of Antonio, who was our MVP last year and was one of the most well-liked guys on the team," said B.C. linebacker Javier Glatt.

"So, he had to produce, and he did."

But known as a studious and rather shy figure with the media, Smith takes no credit.

"The offensive line and the receivers are the reason I am doing what I am doing," he said. "The linemen are getting three steps ahead of me and they are getting the first two yards and I just have to lean a bit to get the other three."

The Eskimos are definitely in Smith's sights tonight - and he will have to beat an old teammate to continue his stellar start to this season.

Edmonton middle linebacker Quincy Stewart and Smith played together at Louisiana Tech.

"He is a strong runner and is not the kind of guy that is going to let one man take him down," said Stewart. "He's going to be a challenge."

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NO ORDINARY JOE

Three intriguing facts about Joe Smith ...

1. Has a string of connections to the Eskimos: Besides being scouted by Paul Jones, he has played with Quincy Stewart and former back Dahrran Diedrick.

2. Attended New Mexico Military Institute Junior College and could have joined the American military on foreign assignment as an officer. Instead he transferred to Louisiana Tech after two years.

3. Smith started an Internet business called Magic Memory Dog Tags while rehabbing an injury last year. "If you have any magical moments you want to savour and keep with you at all times, we engrave them on different pendants," he said. A basic tag costs $25 - and he has found a lot of clients on the Lions' roster.


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