MORGANTOWN -- As best as those closest to him can remember, Geno Smith never has been knocked from a game. Never took a play or a series to compose himself. Never missed a start. Never needed someone finish what he started.
There was a broken shoulder in 2005, when West Virginia's quarterback was a freshman backup at Miramar (Fla.) High School, but he hardly played in a playoff loss that ended the team's season.
He did miss three games as a junior in 2007, but that was punishment for a role he and 53 others on Miramar and Flanagan High had in an ugly brawl in the third quarter of a game the Patriots would win when it was resumed a month later.
Other than that, Smith has not had an injury keep him from lining up behind center. That includes the 2010 WVU season behind a shaky offensive line that allowed 27 sacks in 13 games, plus plenty of other hits Smith endured while passing, scrambling or asked to run.
"I pride myself on that," Smith said Saturday as he begins his junior season with the Mountaineers. "I love to play and I understand injuries are part of the game. No one out there feels great, but it's my job as the quarterback to stay in there."
Smith has been hurt at WVU. He has broken a bone in his left foot twice, once off the field and once in winter conditioning drills, but he played all season with the latter problem that required surgery in the offseason.
There have been close calls. In 2008, when Smith was on his way to Florida's Class 6A offensive player of the year award and a spot on Parade Magazine's All-America team, he was hit hard by a Blanche Ely defender and his hand was hurt badly.
He shook it and winced and tried to make a fist and squeeze. He was hopeless without his throwing hand and Miramar wouldn't be in much better shape without Smith.
He didn't miss a play and ended up with three touchdown passes in a 39-14 win.
"He's tough," said sophomore Ivan McCartney, who caught passes from Smith for two years at Miramar. "Very tough."
Nothing matters more for the Mountaineers.
Freshman Brian Athey transferred out of the program last week (to FCS member Illinois State) and left WVU with only Smith and freshman Paul Millard at the position. There is no one else, not even a walk-on, and there may be no help coming.
In Coach Dana Holgorsen's first season, the pass offense rests in the hands of Smith and his ability to stay upright and in the game, which history suggests is distinctly possible.
This will be Holgorsen's 19th season coaching college football. In the previous 18, he said he never lost a starting quarterback.
"I think a lot of it is the scheme," Holgorsen said. "We sort out our protections pretty good. We coach the quarterbacks to get rid of the ball. We call plays to keep the pressure off of him, so I guess it's a lot of scheme and probably a little bit of coaching."