He does now.
“It’s CRAZY,” said the junior running back. “I’ve never seen two communities go back and forth at each other like that. I’ve never seen that many people watch a football game.”
Smith participated in his first Highway 97 rivalry game last season, which was won by Sand Springs, 53-26. The Sandites have won seven of the last eight meetings, but the all-time series record between the two schools is all even at 45-45-5.
Smith was a pleasant surprise for the Chieftains last season, rushing for almost 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns in split duty.
“He’s a big-time running back,” said second-year head coach Tim Holt, Jr. “He’s going to open a lot of eyes this year.”
“He actually started the year playing JV,” recalled Holt. “We found out real quick that he didn’t need to be on JV and needed to be on varsity. He’s hard to tackle and he’s got really good vision.”
“It was definitely good,” said Smith on his sophomore season. “I learned a lot from Tyreese (Jones) above me. This year I’m the main running back, I guess. We’ll see how it goes.”
The Chieftains will likely rely on the 5-9, 190-pound Smith to garner most of the carries this season, a workload Holt believes he can handle.
“That’s one of the conversations we’ve had as an offense,” declared Holt. “What kind of workload can he handle? With his physical structure and how hard he works in the weight room, we don’t have a problem giving it to him 20 to 25 times a game.”
“I think I’m ready for this moment,” admitted Smith, who tries to model his game after former Penn State running backs Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders. “It’s been a long time coming. It makes me happy that they trust me that much.”
Despite his impressive numbers a year ago, Smith isn’t listed on many of the preseason picks for top running backs in the area. That’s something he plans to change.
“Oh yeah, that definitely motivates me,” claimed Smith. “I can believe it, though, because I came out of nowhere last year. I’ll be up there, though. I promise you that.”
The Chieftains are also looking for Smith to provide leadership on and off the field.
“Our team kind of feeds off his energy,” claimed Holt. “He’s a great kid in the classroom and a great kid in the community. He’s always smiling. It doesn’t matter if you’re coaching him hard or if he’s scoring touchdowns, he’s always smiling and having a good time.”
Cox’s YurView will broadcast the Highway 97 rivalry between Sand Springs and Sapulpa Friday night on Channel 3. This Ford Game of the Week will also be streamed live.
“They know us and we know them,” stated Holt about playing Sand Springs. “Coach (Bobby) Klinck and I coached together when we were at Broken Arrow, so we’re pretty good friends. It’ll be fun. We know that they’re coached extremely well. They do a good job over there.”
“It’s going to be a very big game,” added Smith. “We’ve just got to be ready and come in with the right mindset. If we come ready to play, it’s going to be us all day. We’re ready.”