In more ways than one, Smith epitomizes Spartans’ track record of success
by Aaron Garcia
It would’ve been easy for Sun Valley High football coach Scott Stein to call quarterback Ryan Smith’s double-overtime, end-zone interception in last week’s loss to Porter Ridge a mistake.
But Stein won’t do that – and not because he’s trying to protect his player.
The thing is, in that play, Stein saw Smith’s willingness to try to make a play for his team. Just as important, Stein saw Smith’s willingness to live with the results if it didn’t work.
Considering the circumstances, it was the right move, said Stein.
“You have to throw it down there,” he said. “You can’t hold the ball. A selfish player holds the ball because no one’s open.”
And that’s the reason Smith’s value doesn’t rest simply on wins and losses.
“He put us in a position to win the ball game – we just didn’t pull it off,” said Stein.
With Smith’s career record of 18-6 in his two seasons as a starter, that’s hardly been the norm.
Smith has been a Sun Valley football mainstay. As a middle-school student, he’d head to the high school every Friday night to watch his older brother, Cory, take the field as the Spartans’ quarterback. Cory, who was a three-year starter, led the team to its first home playoff game and its deepest playoff run: the 2006 state qarterfinals.
But Ryan’s place as a Spartan quarterback was hardly a birthright; at that time, he was a tight end and a linebacker. But the lack of experience didn’t exactly hurt the younger Smith. If anything, it helped that he played different positions before becoming a quarterback.
“I think he was able to get real comfortable with the game of football,” said Stein.
When Smith wound up at Sun Valley for his freshman year, Stein moved him to quarterback, where he excelled on the junior varsity. By his sophomore season, there was a void at quarterback for the first time since before Cory was there, and Stein said he could tell Ryan would be a good fit.
“I knew the sophomore mistakes that were made weren’t going to affect him mentally after he went home; he wouldn’t feel like the losses were his fault,” Stein said. “He really has a good structural base of a human being his family has given him. I think the chance to watch the program growing up helped him as well.”
“That gave me an extra advantage knowing all the formations and most of the plays,” said Smith, who added that just seeing how his brother handled himself in the spotlight was beneficial.
“I think it made a lot of my decisions easier because I pretty much knew what to look for because he’d always help me reading coverages and everything.”
But for Stein, Smith’s greatest advantage has always been his attitude. Blessed with a surplus of moxie and a short memory, Smith rarely lets a mistake affect him on the next play.
“As a quarterback, you’ve got to be calm and cool enough to be excited about the highs, not get too down about the lows, and somehow keep your team on an even keel,” said Stein. “That’s what Ryan does best.”
Again, Smith credits his older brother for much of that. Cory always had patience with his younger brother, even when Ryan couldn’t keep up. Smith also said distributing the ball to playmakers such as running back Jadarrius Williams and receivers Jody Fuller, Chris Duffy, Steven Cole, Bryson Bouldin and Will Holmes has made it easier to look ahead, rather than dwell on miscues.
“It starts with the offensive line,” Smith said. “I can sit back there, and I have plenty of time to scan who’s out there. Nine times out of 10, two or three of them are open. Even if they’re not open, I trust them enough to just put it up there, and I know one of them is going to make a play. Even if they don’t catch it, I know they’re going to keep it from getting (intercepted).
“That’s probably the best feeling a quarterback can have.”
And, as Stein can attest, having a quarterback with that kind of confidence is one of the best feelings a coach can have.