Tuesday, November 10, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Badger rumbling towards 5,000

Leader sportswriter

Beebe senior fullback Trip Smith recently broke the school’s career rushing record, but that feat has yet to sink in with Smith, whose focus is solely on helping his team win Friday’s first-round playoff game at Greenbrier.

Smith broke the school rushing record in the team’s week-eight win at J.A. Fair on Oct. 23. Going into that game, Smith needed only 69 yards to surpass previous record-holder Nic Bradley’s career mark of 4,640 rushing yards set in 1995. Smith got 104 yards in that game to help the Badgers to a dominant 42-6 win over the War Eagles.

The next week, which was the Badgers’ regular-season finale, Smith ran for more than 240 yards and two touchdowns in the team’s 35-28 win over Sylvan Hills. Smith now has a career total of 4,916 yards rushing. He’s done it on 828 carries, giving him a career average of 5.9 yards per carry.

“He’s been pretty special for us,” said Beebe coach John Shannon of his senior fullback. “He’s 84 yards away from 5,000 on his career. You know, you hear about kids rushing for 5,000 yards. Well, most of the time they’re playing as freshmen, and he’s done it in 30 games.

“It’ll be 31 high school games this Friday night. That’s a pretty special kid.”

Smith said it’s great to be the school’s all-time leading rusher, but added that his main focus is on winning this week’s playoff game against Greenbrier – the same Greenbrier team Beebe beat, 41-27, in the regular-season opener at War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 1.

“It’s all cool,” said Smith. “I feel great about it, but right now we’re focused on winning games. After the season ends, I’ll probably be more focused on that. But right now, I’m just focused on getting ready for Greenbrier.”

Smith has led the Badger backfield since he was a sophomore. That year, he had his best statistical season as a Badger, carrying the ball 312 times for 1,928 yards and 23 touchdowns.

It was a breakout season for the up-and-coming Smith, but he wasn’t expected to be relied on that heavily going into that 2013 season. In fact, originally, he wasn’t even expected to be a fullback, which is the feature running back position in Shannon’s Dead-T offense.

“He wasn’t even technically a fullback,” Shannon said. “A kid had quit and we were in search of a fullback. During spring ball, we kept looking at him, and the more we looked at him the more we liked him. So he kind of won the job in spring ball.

“Come his sophomore year, we weren’t planning on giving him that many touches. But that first game he ran for over 280-something yards in his first high school football game. From that point on, we knew we needed to get him the ball quite a bit.”

“I started playing in seventh grade,” Smith said, “but up until 10th grade I was a halfback and rotated in at the right side of the fullback, and I played safety. I started at safety.

“Coach Shannon said the (fullback) job was open, and I went in and won the competition I guess.”

Smith gave the bulk of the credit to his offensive linemen for the success he had as a 10th grader.

“I felt my sophomore year was mainly because of my offensive linemen,” Smith said. “I didn’t have much experience. I was just kind of letting them do all the work and I was just going through the hole. It was kind of a learning experience for me.”

After a phenomenal sophomore campaign, big things were expected from Smith going into his junior year, but just before the season started, he suffered a gruesome weightlifting injury to the upper end of his finger.

“It took a chunk of it,” Smith said of the injury. “Some of the bone was taken off, too. There was a piece (of flesh) just sitting on the dumbbell, they told me. When I sat it (the dumbbell) down, I knew I smashed it. I was feeling pain, but I didn’t think it was like a huge deal.

“Then I saw people running when they saw it, and I looked down and I was like, wow.”

Even though he came close to losing that part of his finger, Smith had it reattached and was back on the field for the team’s first conference game in week four – meaning he only missed the first three games of last season.

The injured finger was nowhere near 100 percent when he started playing again, but a cast he wore around it helped protect it and allowed him to get back onto the field and start carrying the ball again.

“They gave me a big ole cast to put on my finger,” Smith said. “We had to work with it for a while to make sure I could secure the ball and not fumble. There were a few times in the first couple of games where it got hit, and the initial pain, it felt like I had reinjured it.”

Smith said he’s always nervous before games, but he said even more so that first game back against McClellan. His first carry in that game, though, went for 30 yards, and he said that was a big help in easing his anxiety the rest of the way.

“I’m usually nervous before games, but I was especially nervous for that one,” Smith said. “My first carry was a trap right up the middle, and it went for 30 yards and it just loosened me up a little for the rest of the game.”

Smith said his finger fully healed toward the end of the regular season, which helped him contribute even more to the team’s magical run to the Class 5A state semifinals. Despite missing the first three games of last season, he finished 2014 with 262 carries for 1,643 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Those numbers once again led the Beebe backfield, but the Badgers had another 1,000-yard rusher in 2014 in halfback Jo’Vaughn Wyrick. Wyrick averaged a whopping 14.3 yards per carry last season, and he and Smith had become the thunder and lightning duo of Beebe’s backfield.

Unfortunately for Beebe, Wyrick suffered a season-ending leg injury toward the end of the first half in the team’s week-two game at Lonoke. Smith and Wyrick are teammates, but also close friends off the field. Smith described what it was like to see his teammate and friend being carted off the field that Friday night.

“When he first went down, I was kind of optimistic that it was just a stinger and that maybe he’d get back up in a little bit,” Smith said. “Even when he went to the hospital, I was trying to stay positive. When I heard that it was broken, I was kind of heartbroken, especially for him.

“He worked so hard to get where he was, and to just get it taken away like that, it hurt.”

Others have stepped in to try and fill the void that Wyrick left, but it’s once again been Smith that’s carried the bulk of the load on offense this season. For the third-consecutive year, Smith is the team’s leading rusher, and he enters Friday’s first-round playoff game at Greenbrier with 254 carries for 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

Smith is a proven standout on the gridiron, but he also stands out in the classroom. Smith ranks in the top five percent of his class with a 4.1 cumulative grade point average, and he scored a 30 on his ACT.

“He’s a straight-A student,” Shannon said. “He’s a yes sir, no sir type of kid – just a hard worker. It’s a blessing to have a kid that does well in the classroom and on the football field, and he’s just a good kid.

“You don’t have to worry about him getting in trouble in classes. You don’t have to worry about him getting in trouble out on the streets. He’s just an incredible kid. He’s going to work hard every day and do everything you ask him to do, and like I said, he’s a special athlete, too.”

“There are some days that are easier than others,” Smith said of balancing school work and football, “but most of the time I can get through it.”

With a 4.1 GPA and score of 30 on the ACT, Smith can get a full-paid academic scholarship to nearly any school of his choosing, at least in state. He said he doesn’t yet know where he’ll attend college, or if he’ll even choose to play football at the next level.

As of now, his focus is on the present and doing his best in the classroom and on the football field, where the Badgers have won four of their last five games. As far as doing his best on the football field, though, the two-time All-State fullback doesn’t do it for personal records or accolades. He does it for his team, which he says is like family.

“It feels like a family,” Smith said. “We’re like a brotherhood here. It feels like you go in every day, working hard to please your family, and make sure that you’re not letting them down.”