Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Smith gets second chance to experience Omaha
Arkansas student assistant coach Cullen Smith is shown during a College World Series game against Stanford on Saturday, June 18, 2022, in Omaha, Neb.
OMAHA, Neb. — Arkansas’ roster this week at the College World Series includes 17 players who were part of last year’s team that failed to make it to Omaha as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
An 18th player from the 2021 team is also on the trip, but in a different role.
Cullen Smith, a transfer from East Tennessee State who started 49 games playing both corner infield positions last season, is a student assistant coach for this year’s team. He was a starter at third base when the Razorbacks’ 2021 season ended with a 3-2 loss to North Carolina State in the third game of a super regional in Fayetteville.
“It’s incredible,” Smith said this week of being in Omaha. “Honestly, this has been my dream ever since 2009 when I came here as a fan with my father. It’s all I ever wanted to do was come to the College World Series.
“After last year, I was absolutely heartbroken knowing it was my last baseball game ever. I knew coaching was something I always wanted to do and I knew (Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn) was someone I wanted to coach for, and I knew we were good enough to make it back to the College World Series.”
Smith said he was almost brought to tears when the Razorbacks defeated North Carolina 4-3 on June 12 to advance to Omaha.
“I’m giving everything I’ve got for us to win this thing now,” Smith said of his role. “Last year I was a fifth-year senior and guys looked up to me as an older brother figure, so I don’t think it’s much of a difference. I think the freshmen see me more as coach and people like Jalen (Battles) and Robert (Moore) see me more as friend who is trying to help….They know I’m genuinely trying to help them be better.”
Smith said he has made sure to soak in the moments this week in Omaha, just like he did during his experiences as a player last season.
“I could have finished my career playing in front of 200 people at ETSU and I did it playing in front of 12,000 at Baum Stadium,” Smith said. “I’ve definitely been doing it here. Every piece of memento — like I got a little bracelet from the College World Series opening ceremony that’s in my bag — I’m keeping everything, man. This is my dream come true.”
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