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OHIO STATE FOOTBALL Questions still surround Smith



Published: Wed, February 23, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The quarterback was suspended two games for taking money from a booster.

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Life goes on, Troy Smith said with a shrug. And so do nagging questions about the Ohio State quarterback's relationship with a booster, and about the troubled Buckeyes football program.

Smith spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since he was suspended before December's Alamo Bowl for taking an undisclosed amount of money from a team booster.

Seven times during a 10-minute interview, Smith said he "didn't want to get into that" when asked questions about how he met booster Robert Q. Baker, why Baker gave him money and how the money was spent.

He was clear about a couple of things, however.

Asked if taking money from Baker was the only time he received improper benefits from a booster, Smith said, "The first, last and only time."

He has apologized to his teammates, he said.

"As a leader on the team, it was an apology because I let my guys down," he said. "But life goes on. The decisions we make are the decisions that make us a man."

He says he has not paid back the money.

Turning things around

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, whose program is under NCAA investigation after allegations of payments to players, no-show jobs and academic fraud, said he had faith that Smith had turned things around.

"Troy Smith is a good kid," Tressel said after an early morning team workout on Tuesday. "I don't think I sit everyday worrying if he's going to have repeat mistakes. He's a real solid kid who made a mistake -- and admitted he made a mistake. He wants to move on. The process is not over so he can't move on. That's perhaps the most uncomfortable position to be in because I'm sure he would love to say to all of you, here's the answer, it's over, I'm ready to move forward. But we're not at that point."

Smith was overlooked the first half of last season until Ohio State opened the Big Ten schedule with three consecutive losses. Then he took over for Justin Zwick and led the Buckeyes to wins in four of their next five games.

In the showdown with rival Michigan, Smith rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown and passed for 241 yards and two more scores in a 37-21 upset of the No. 7-ranked Wolverines.

Not long after that, Smith was suspended for accepting money from Baker, a businessman who lives in Springfield. The Buckeyes went on to roll over Oklahoma State in the bowl game behind Zwick.

Moving on

His teammates were ready to forgive and forget.

"It's all over with," wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. "The team has let it go."

Smith had been in trouble before. He was convicted of a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge for a fight outside an Ohio State dormitory in the fall of 2003.

Smith said his latest problem couldn't be blamed on Ohio State.

"They prep us all the time about the things we should do as far as money outlets," Smith said. "I just made a poor decision as a man. [I've] just got to make better ones in the future."

Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger has said that, based on decisions in similar cases before the NCAA, he expected Smith to also be suspended for the 2005 season opener against Miami (Ohio).

While Ohio State awaits answers from the NCAA about further sanctions against the football team and its quarterback, Tressel remains willing to count on Smith.

"I have a lot of confidence in Troy Smith," Tressel said. "I guess the proof is only in the future."




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