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Post-grad pigskin: Former Ute Smith joins Florida

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's depleted secondary got a
boost Tuesday when former Utah starter Ryan Smith joined the team.

Smith, who could replace departed cornerback Avery Atkins, is
eligible to play this season under new NCAA legislation that allows
athletes who graduate and have eligibility remaining to transfer
without sitting out a year.

"It was an easy decision once I knew I had the opportunity,"
Smith said after completing his first practice. "I was ready to
play football somewhere else."

Smith started 12 games for the Utes in 2004 under then-coach
Urban Meyer and had 44 tackles and an interception. He started the
first five games last year, but was replaced in the lineup midway
though the season because coach Kyle Whittingham said others were
"playing better."

Smith left the Utes after spring practice, saying he was
physically and mentally exhausted from the game.

"I think a little time off is what I needed," he said. "It
helped me get a little fresher and get me prepared mentally and
physically."

Now, he has been reunited with Meyer and could play a big role
for Florida.

Atkins was released from his scholarship in late June, a week
after he was accused of striking the mother of his 2-month-old
child.

Atkins asked for his release before the alleged battery, but
Meyer denied the request after talking with family members. Meyer
eventually relented.

Smith said he considered transferring long before Atkins'
troubles. But he knew it couldn't happen unless he completed his
undergraduate degree in the summer.

He did so last week and was accepted to Florida's graduate
program in educational leadership. He has two years of eligibility
remaining and has high hopes for this season.

"I expect to come in and get a starting job," Smith said.
"That's what I want to do, but there's guys here that have been
and been playing here. I can't expect to walk in and take a job.
I've got to earn it."

Without Atkins, Meyer moved safety Reggie Nelson to cornerback
to start opposite seldom-used senior Reggie Lewis.

But Florida's secondary became even thinner Monday, when
freshman safety Bryan Thomas had arthroscopic knee surgery. Thomas
twisted his knee in practice Sunday, bursting a blood vessel near
his anterior cruciate ligament. He will be sidelined four to six
weeks.

"We've got the issues that we have," Heater said. "It's a
bonus to have a guy who's got college experience. He's played a
bunch of games in college football. That's a free-agent signing."

The NCAA approved the graduate-transfer rule in April, ending a
one-year waiting period for student-athletes who graduate and want
to transfer in football, basketball and hockey.

So far, three prominent football players -- including Smith --
have taken advantage of the change. Offensive lineman Tyler Krieg
transferred from Duke to California, and quarterback
Richard Kovalcheck transferred from Arizona to Vanderbilt.

Meyer said he initially opposed Smith's proposed transfer, not
wanting to take players from another program, but he changed his
mind after learning that Smith was going to leave Utah regardless
of whether he moved to Gainesville.

"It's really worked out well," Meyer said. "He looked like
the same Ryan that I remember."