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September 14, 2010Prior to practice Tuesday, Keith Smith, propped up on a single crutch, address his fellow Boilermaker wide receivers.
Just a matter of hours earlier, an MRI conclusively identified his season-ending injury as tears to both the ACL and MCL in his right knee.
"He let us know it's not the end of the world," said Antavian Edison, who now fills in for Smith as Purdue's No. 1 slot receiver, "and that we all have to step our game up. He's right. We all have to step our game up."
That will be Smith's message the rest of the season, as the Boilermakers' leading receiver and one of the best nationally at his position takes on the role of de facto coach.
"Of course I'm bummed out about it," Smith said, talking to media following Tuesday's practice, "but we have a whole season to go, and now my role just goes from being a player to being a coach for these guys and still being the leader I am for these guys, regardless of whether I'm on the field or not. ... They know I'm going to be there for the rest of the season and I'm going to do everything I possibly can in my power (for them).
"It's a complete mind change, but something I have to do for myself and my team to get through all this."
Smith, a fifth-year senior, does not know when he'll undergo surgery, saying that the plan initially is to "let the MCL heal" before reconstructing the ACL.
Like most anybody who saw him get hurt in the fourth quarter of Saturday's win over Western Illinois, Smith quickly knew the injury was a major one.
"I felt it right away that it was pretty bad," Smith said. "As soon as I got hit and was laying on the ground, I never felt pain like I did then. I knew it was something very serious. It was really loose."
The past two seasons, Purdue has seen safety Torri Williams and linebacker Jason Werner granted sixth years of eligibility from the NCAA.
Smith said he has not yet thought much about petitioning the NCAA himself following the season, in hopes of returning in 2011.
"I'm trying to get healthy first," said Smith, who'll graduate in December. "I'll talk to the coaches and we won't talk about that until after I have my ACL surgery and start on my rehab. After that, we'll sit down and have a full conversation about what to do for the future. Until then, I won't even address it at all."
Until that time comes, Smith will concern himself solely with his recovery and motivating his teammates, saying he expects his fellow receivers to, "make it seem like there's no void at all."
"They can do it," Smith said. "With everybody stepping up their game a little bit, you won't see a difference out there. I still feel we have the best receiving corps in the Big Ten."
"I know how good each one of them can be, so I'm going to push them through practice and in games, I'll be right there on the sidelines with them. I'll make sure they have a voice in their ear."
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