Von Smith didn”t think he was ready.
After all, he was only a freshman and he couldn”t be trusted to run a varsity offense, right?
It was natural last season for Smith, then only a freshman, to experience some doubts about his readiness to take over at quarterback for the West Oktibbeha High School football team.
Even though he had years of practice at the position at the youth football level, Smith wasn”t sure he was prepared to handle the jump to the “big time.”
“I didn”t think it was my time to start in high school play,” Smith said. “I was more nervous every game.”
Less than a year later, Smith has matured into a calm, cool, and collected leader for the Timberwolves.
The sophomore quarterback threw for 370 yards and four touchdowns Friday to lead West Oktibbeha to a 29-20 victory against East Oktibbeha.
For his accomplishments, Smith is The Dispatch”s Prep Player of the Week.
“I have everything down pat this year and I am ready for it,” Smith said. “I feel more comfortable playing quarterback.”
Smith was 19 of 29 with no interceptions in the Timberwolves” victory against their archrival. The win helped the team improve to 2-1 ahead of its home opener this week against Noxapater.
Smith, who is 5-foot-7 1/2, 150 pounds, said an offseason packed with 7-on-7 camp play against larger classification schools like Starkville and Noxubee County high schools helped prepare him for this season. He said he honed his timing with weapons like Dwight Quinn, Josh Poe, and Aaron Brownlee in those games and in the preseason to get to the point where he and his teammates look like they are in midseason form.
Their precision is needed in an offense that relies on speed. Since Smith isn”t the biggest player, he doesn”t waste time holding the ball in the pocket. Instead, he relies on his offensive line to give him just enough time so he can drop back and fire the ball on quick-hitting routes to either side. He also has the arm strength when given enough time to go deep.
Last week, Smith hit Quinn on an 80-yard scoring strike and Poe on a 50-yard touchdown. He also went 30 yards to Drake Powell and 21 yards to Powe.
“I have worked on route running and have been constantly throwing the football at practice,” Smith said. “Coach has me on a timer, and when we do the quick routes he wants the ball out of my hands in three seconds. Practice is so hard that when we get into the game it seems like practice.”
West Oktibbeha coach Adam Lowrey has helped instill that discipline in Smith and the wide receivers. He has Smith and his receivers do 15 pushups at a time for each mistake they make throwing a pass, running a route, or dropping a throw in practice.
Lowrey, who used to be an assistant coach at Noxubee County High School, credits Tigers” offensive coordinator James Patterson for teaching him a lot of the concepts he has tried to install at West Oktibbeha. He said the quarterback”s ability to deliver a ball to a receiver in stride is key to get the most out of a play.
Lowrey said he never doubted his decision last year to move Smith in at quarterback and to move Quinn to wide receiver. The switches came after a loss to West Lowndes that made Lowrey put the players in the positions he thought were most natural to them.
The choice to put Smith at quarterback is proving to be the right one.
“He always felt like he could do anything. That”s his nature,” Lowrey said of Smith. “He has grown miles. At the beginning, he was young and always concerned about getting hit. He thought he was made of paper. He really did. Once he realized the way we were blocking up front that, ”Hey, I”m OK,” that”s when he really started throwing the ball well.”
Smith continued his development in the offseason. He nearly led West Oktibbeha, a Class 1A school, to a victory against Class 4A Noxubee County at a 7-on-7 camps at East Mississippi Community College. He said he has learned how to read defenses better and to make his decisions quicker. He said it was difficult to do that last season because he still doubted himself.
Now things are a lot easier that he has proven to himself he can do it.
“It felt pretty good (last week against East Oktibbeha),” Smith said. “We had fans who kept cheering us on on offense and we didn”t give up.”
Smith has high goals for himself. He said he and the offense want to get as close to perfect as they can, and to the point where the score on every possession except two in every game.
Smith has the weapons and the arm to make it happen. Lowrey feels it is just a matter of time before things really start to click for his quarterback and for his team.
“He is so accurate,” Lowrey said of Smith. “Not only can he put the ball where he wants to, but he also allows me to coach him up so hard. He is such a good kid and he wants to be great.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.