He caught a touchdown pass in his first college game and later caught the game-winner in Ohio State's biggest win of the season.
But in retrospect, Devin Smith saw himself much more as a secret than secret weapon in 2011. And now that the slate's been wiped totally clean and new coach Urban Meyer has put out a very public call for offensive weapons, Smith sees big things ahead for himself and the Ohio State offense.
"The (down) parts of last year honestly made me work harder because I didn't know when I was going to get those opportunities," Smith said. "I've put in the work. I'm anxious. And I think this offense can be great -- not just for me, but for the other receivers, for Jordan Hall when he gets healthy and for all of us.
"We're going to make it work. This offense can get us to the places we want to be."
The Buckeyes' new spread, up-tempo offense will usually feature at least three wide receivers on the field at a time, and Smith has been working since January to keep himself in that group. He knows he fits athletically and was able to build a rapport with classmate and quarterback Braxton Miller, and Smith also knows that every impression counts.
On the first day of full-squad camp last week, Meyer mentioned Smith as a player he saw running the kind of deep route -- with the kind of speed and intention -- he wants to see.
"It was ridiculous," Meyer said, fully complimentary.
Smith said he'd judge himself as having been "pretty good, certainly not perfect" in the first week of camp. Earlier this week, Meyer said the receiving corps is improving but still isn't what he sees as "Ohio State quality." The challenges, from the coaching staff and opponents, will continue.
"A lot of receivers are stepping up," Smith said. "As a group, we've made a big step since the spring. The future of this offense is bright. We're doing the work."
Smith finished his freshman season 14 catches for 294 yards and 4 touchdowns, the highlight being the 40-yard game-winner against Wisconsin on which he outran the defense and had to wait for Miller's high-lofting pass to come down into his hands. But he caught just two more passes the rest of the regular season, and past the season's first two weeks he didn't have receptions in back-to-back games.
It's hard to believe that Smith's 14 catches would tie for the team lead in a modern, 13-game college football season, but they did. Such was the state of the Buckeyes offense. His 294 yards were easily a team-high.
But Smith came away feeling he hadn't done enough, and though he didn't say it directly, it's hard to believe there were many more excited players on the roster about the arrival of Meyer and his spread offense.
"Last year was frustrating because I wanted to play more," Smith said. "I feel like when I was in there, I made the best of everything I could. It was a great learning experience to be here, to go through a Big Ten schedule, to go through a coaching change. I'm ready for the future.
"This whole offseason since Coach Meyer got here has been about getting ready -- stronger, faster. I knew the strength would come, maybe not all at once, but it would come. I knew receivers in this offense have to be fast and I worked on getting faster."
Smith said he put on a "good almost 10 pounds" through the spring. He came to Columbus last summer weighing in the 190-193 range and is now a shade over 200.
"I feel stronger," he said. "I feel great. I'm still running fast."
Smith returned home to Massillon for a few days in late Jule before Ohio State went to camp, and his high school coach thought he was talking to a brand new man.
"Like all kids, you get away from home for the first time and the maturity factor kicks in," Massillon head coach Jason Hall said. "And once you get to that level of football, your competitiveness has to kick in. It was different for him, too, because he was a three-sport athlete in high school. All the weight room time was new to him.
"Devin came home two weeks ago and we had lunch, and I saw a kid who was mentally and physically ready for the season. Even if he doesn't totally know what the future holds, he's much more prepared for Big Ten football. It's no shock to me that he has a chance to have success there."
Smith spent part of the winter and spring running track at Ohio State, placing in the Big Ten meet in the high jump in both the indoor and outdoor seasons. But his focus since the late spring has been entirely on football and meeting expectations, both his own and those of his new coach.
He knows what Meyer has said and expects from his receiving corps, and he's anxious to officially get going.
"He went in with an open mind, both last year and this year" Hall said. "When you go to Ohio State, you're always dealing with high expectations. Everybody wants to play right away. Everybody wants to be a star. I don't think Devin was any different in that regard. I'm sure it was frustrating at times last year when things weren't going well and he wasn't playing as much as he wanted to.
"Devin is a tough kid. If (Meyer) gets after him, I expect Devin to handle it well. He's got a ton of ability, and when he puts it all together I won't be surprised to see him doing very big things on the field. "