Sometimes coaches just click.
Sean Harrison would have loved to have added Tobias Smith to the Heritage Academy football team’s coaching staff when he first learned late in 2017 that Smith was interested in working at the private school in Columbus. The timing didn’t work until nearly six or seven months later when Harrison had an opening on his staff.
It didn’t take long for Smith, a former standout offensive lineman at Columbus High School and Mississippi State, and Harrison, a former standout offensive lineman at Jackson Academy and Delta State, to discover they had similar approaches to offense.
“It is really refreshing to have somebody who can go down there and I have no worries,” said Harrison, who is in his third season at Heritage Academy’s head football coach. “I know my guys are being taught the proper way, the proper attitude.”
Harrison, Smith, and the rest of the Heritage Academy coaching staff and players were on the practice field for two-plus hours Monday for the official first day of practice for the 2018 Mississippi Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) football season.
Smith, who spent four years as an assistant coach at Columbus High, will work as a physical education teacher at Heritage Academy Elementary School. He will coach the offensive and defensive lines for the Patriots. Smith coached only the offensive line at Columbus High.
“I think the transition has been easy,” Smith said. “We have a lot of good guys and they are working hard. Working with good people is always a good thing to do.”
Smith said it won’t be a challenge to coach the offensive and defensive lines. He said he kind of knows what offensive linemen didn’t like from his playing days, so he plans to teach his defensive linemen to do those things.
Smith had an injury plagued career at Mississippi State following a standout career at Columbus High. Smith sat out his freshman season in 2008 after he suffered a broken ankle in preseason practice. In 2009, Smith was working with the first team offense when he suffered a leg injury in August. He played in only three games.
Smith played in 12 games and earned his first career start in 2010. He saw time with the regular offensive line at left or right guard throughout the year. In 2011, Smith started the first three games before he injured his left knee in the first series of the game against LSU.
In 2012, Smith made nine starts and appeared in 10 games. He split playing time with redshirt freshman Justin Malone after rehabilitation from the injury in which he suffered partial tears of all three ligaments (anterior collateral, medial collateral, and lateral collateral) in his left knee.
Harrison said Smith is “instilling that kind of nasty little attitude” in his offensive linemen. He said Smith also is stressing the importance of staying on blocks and finishing them, which he feels is something the team could have done better last season.
“He is going to be great for us,” Harrison said. “He has that instant credibility because they know he has been there and done that at a high level. He jumped in his first day here with the kids and immediately started developing relationships. That is really the most impressive thing about him.”
Smith said it hasn’t been hard to bond with players because the guys accept him because they know he played in the Southeastern Conference. He said the players feel comfortable doing what he asks them to do based on that experience.
“I think that is why I have so much credibility because I played at a high level and these guys want to get to that level, so they listen to me and try to do everything I ask them to do,” Smith said.
Smith said he watched film of the 2017 Patriots to know what to expect from his linemen. He said it is too early to tell who will play where and what they can do, but he feels confident junior Eli Acker will play both ways as long as he is fresh. Smith said Acker likely will play end on defense and tackle on offense.
“He is one of the leaders on the team,” Smith said. “He has been everything I heard about him. He is a great athlete. He does everything I ask him to do. Sometimes he asks me to get extra work in. Anytime I have a player like that I am happy with him.”
NOTES: Harrison said the Patriots had a “really good” first day. He said having a more experienced team enabled him to start from a more advanced place. Harrison anticipates “throwing the kitchen sink” at the Patriots on Tuesday in practice. “We didn’t run half of the offense that we should have last year just because I didn’t feel like we could get it in and I didn’t feel confident in it,” said Harrison, who expects to have a 35-player roster. … Harrison said senior Moak Griffin is back at “110 percent” after suffering a season-ending injury last season. “He has gained a step. He hasn’t lost one,” Harrison said. “He also has gained about 10 pounds.” He expects Griffin to be part of what possibly could be a deeper array of weapons despite the graduation loss of running back Dontae Gray.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.