Miles from nowhere

Thursday, April 29, 2004

When Southeast Missouri State University coach Joey Haines recruited Miles Smith, the sprinter appeared to be a diamond in the rough.

Although it's still early in the freshman's college track career, many of those ragged edges have already been smoothed out.

That was apparent by Smith's performance at the recent Mississippi State Invitational. The St. Louis native clocked 46.84 seconds in the 400 meters, marking the third-fastest time in school history and qualifying him for the NCAA regional meet.

"I knew I'd do good, but I didn't know I'd come in doing this good," Smith said, smiling.

Haines figured Smith would eventually do that good, although probably not so soon. Smith's high school times were solid but not spectacular, which helped Southeast successfully recruit him over mostly smaller programs.

"I thought he was a lot better than his times," Haines said. "We signed him before things started happening."

Things started happening for Smith in the summer following Smith's senior year at Riverview Gardens High School, where he finished fourth in the state in the 400 and ran on the state champion 800 relay team and the third-place 1,600 relay.

On the summer circuit, Smith had the eighth-fastest time at the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics. Later, during an AAU meet at the University of Arkansas, he also opened plenty of eyes with a blazing performance.

"I was looking for some place to go and Coach Haines made an appeal to me," said Smith, who added with a grin, "But he got lucky. A few days after I signed, I ran the 400 at Arkansas and one of their coaches offered me a scholarship. But I had already signed."

Not that Smith is complaining.

"I love it at SEMO, and I like Cape. It's a nice college town," he said. "I'm glad I'm here."

According to Haines, it didn't take long for Smith to emerge as one of the team's more boisterous personalities.

"Miles keeps everybody loose. He's got a great personality," Haines said, chuckling. "But he's a really good kid, and a good student. He's already made the scholar-athlete list here."

Smith laughed when hearing Haines' assessment of him -- and he wasn't about to dispute it. He said he's always been the outgoing, personable type, which led him and a friend to form a rap group in middle school.

"That was a lot of fun," he said.

But he said there will be no rapping in his future -- at least not professionally. He's majoring in mass communications and wants to ultimately reach the radio airwaves.

"I want to be a disc jockey or an on-air personality," he said. "I've always had a good personality. When everybody feels down, I try to keep everybody up."

Smith has been more up than down so far during his brief college career, placing second in the 400 at the Ohio Valley Conference indoor meet and then ripping off the sizzling outdoor race that places him among some of the top names in Southeast history. He was also first at the recent Kansas Relays.

Terrence Branch holds the school 400 record of 45.52, set in 1994, while Rob Thomas ran 45.95 1984.

"Both of them were All-Americans, but Miles is ahead of them as freshmen, so he might be able to catch them," Haines said. "He's really got a bright future here."

Smith hopes his immediate future includes the 400 title at the OVC outdoor meet along with a strong enough performance at regionals to qualify for nationals.

"My goal is to win the OVC this year," he said. "And I know I have a chance to get to nationals if I keep practicing hard and taking the right steps."

And those steps will no doubt include keeping everybody loose.

"Definitely," he said, laughing.

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