There was a time last spring when Kevon Smith didn’t know if he’d play football during his junior season. A cartilage injury suffered while taking part in a long jump event during a track meet left Smith wondering when he might be able to suit up again.
The original prognosis was that Smith may be able to play in the final two regular season games, but with each doctor visit after the surgery came new hope he’d be back sooner than originally thought.
“I’m pretty sure I would give it luck, plus some extra stuff I was doing. The first couple of weeks I was doing exactly what they told me because I was fresh out of surgery, but as I started getting more comfortable with my leg and how it felt I would start walking on it some,” Smith said. “It got to the point where I was feeling comfortable walking on it with the brace I had on so I was walking on it with the brace and using my crutches whenever I was walking long distances.”
Smith went back to the doctor the week of the Bengals’ season opener against Rustburg and Smith was cleared to return to practice, but he wasn’t allowed any contact.
“It felt good just to be around (the team) knowing they still wanted me to come back and knowing that they still think of me as a teammate,” Smith said. “It was a lot better for me.”
Smith made his season debut when the Bengals took on Franklin County. He was cleared for contact that morning.
“(My nerves) were torn to pieces,” Smith recalled. “After a couple snaps I got back into the feel of it. I was nervous throughout the whole game just because I didn’t know how my knee would react to contact… Just playing proved to me that I was ready.”
Smith admits that he’s not back to full strength yet, but it didn’t show much last Friday night in Ridgeway when he helped Bassett get its first win over Magna Vista still 2012. Smith scored both touchdowns for the Bengals on 22 carries that totaled 125 yards.
“Most of the time I was running the ball they were designed pass plays, but when I was in the pocket huge holes were opening up,” Smith said.
Smith played in the game last season, but he said he made some mistakes in the classroom that left him on the sideline for the first half, making Friday’s performance that much more special.
“It felt pretty good because last year I didn’t get to play against them in the first half because of some issues in school, but to come back this year and be able to do that, it was pretty good,” Smith said.
Bassett Head Coach Brandon Johnson said he felt bad for Smith when he heard of the news of the injury, but as the news got better, he and the team got more excited. Before the injury, Johnson said the offense was designed around having Smith running the show as quarterback. The injury forced some changes, but now the Bengals are back to running the original system that was in mind and Friday night was a good look at the potential it has with Smith at the helm.
“I think you saw Friday night that the system works and he’s starting to get his reads, he’s starting to pick his spots,” Johnson said.
On the two touchdown runs against Magna Vista, Smith was lined up in the shotgun with two running backs split in front of him in a power formation one might see when watching Cam Newton on the goal line. Johnson said those plays were all set up to let Smith pick the hole and go.
“He picked his spots on both of those runs, Johnson said. “It was good to see that happen from him.”
The game nearly turned when Smith fumbled late in the fourth quarter. Smith said Noah Inman and Austin McDaniel came up to him on the sideline and motivated him to make up for it.
“Noah came up to me and was like, ‘don’t worry about it, just shake it off and get it back next time,’ and Austin was like, ‘we’re going to get the ball back for you, just score and win the game for us,” Smith recalled.
The defense got the ball back and two plays later Smith ran 42 yards for the game-clinching score.
“When I got in the end zone I couldn’t believe it, but I did it,” he said.
His touchdown runs and the performance of the defense were the headlines from the win, but maybe the best highlight came on an illegal play that resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Smith rolled up the left sideline with Magna Vista’s Reaco Dalton in position to make the tackle. A few players earlier, Dalton went low and took Smith down. Smith knew it was coming the next time.
“I didn’t know the full extent of the penalty of hurdling,” Smith said. “I was trying to figure out how I could avoid getting hit that low from him because he comes downhill pretty fast and hard… When I was running down the sideline and I saw him coming at me, he had already had his head down… so I just went ahead and took a leap of faith and made it.”
The team gained a lot of energy from that play, but Smith’s expression didn’t change. That’s not uncommon for Smith, who described himself as very nonchalant. Smith said he can’t explain where that attitude comes from, but it definitely helps him on the field.
“It’s just that ever since I’ve been playing football I’ve never been a hoo-rah type of person,” Smith explained. “It helps me in a way because if I get too excited I know I can mess up, but if I stay calm and keep my cool then I can stay more focused on what’s more important.”
Since coming back from the injury, Smith has been solely a quarterback. He’s played safety or linebacker since he started playing, so this season not being on the defensive side of the field has been an adjustment.
“I can just focus on the offensive plays and I have more time to get a breather after a play or after a drive,” he said. “It’s good in a way, but also I do miss defense too.”
There’s a lot that motivates Smith. He said that he credits his physical therapists for motivating him to get back out on the field this season, but when he takes the field, whether at practice or Friday nights, there’s plenty of motivation in Smith’s head.
“Trying to win the game for that week and trying to get away from here,” Smith said. “I’ve talked to people that have been to college and have experienced the athletic college life and from what they’ve told me, it’s something that I would want… I want to go to a big football school.”
There’s still time before that decision is made, so for now Smith’s focus is set on helping Bassett win more football games now that he’s back where he belongs.