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QB Smith leaves behind legacy of success

Ryan Smith’s last game as a Greenville quarterback didn’t go as he had planned.

The Tigers were knocked out of the state playoffs 28-18 by a revenge-minded Demopolis team that GHS had beaten 28-7 earlier that year for a regional title.

Smith, who had missed the Tigers’ previous two games because of illness, didn’t look like the quarterback who had led Greenville to nine straight wins and a No. 2 state ranking. He threw a pair of interceptions that led to two Demopolis touchdowns in the first half. The gutsy, three-year starter fought through the adversity, leading the Tigers to a quick score in the third quarter, but the damage had been done. Demopolis was moving on, eventually winning the Class 5A state title in Birmingham.

Greenville stayed at home.

“After we lost to them, I was pulling for them,” said Smith. “I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to win it. You know, you definitely look back on it…everybody is just hanging out and you say, ‘man, you remember that tackle you missed,’ or ‘you remember that interception you threw’…it’s tough sometimes when you think about it. You think, if we’d done this different or we’d done this…but you don’t dwell on it.”

Which is something GHS head coach Ben Blackmon said he doesn’t want Smith to do: focus on that last game.

“I hope it’s not,” said Blackmon. “I hope he (Smith) remembers the 11 that came before it. That game was such an emotional game. You can’t place what Ryan Smith meant to this program because of one game. There was lots of things that went wrong in that game.”

Smith missed both the last regular season contest against Hillcrest-Evergreen and the Tigers’ first round game against Moody because of mono. Against Demopolis, Smith said he was as healthy as he had been. The layoff, he said, might have impacted him.

“It really does,” he said. “It’s like doing anything…working job or playing football. If you don’t do it then you’re going to be out of practice. I don’t know. I don’t know if we as a team were focused on that game. We’d come off the big win in week eight in beating them. Big head, maybe? Thought we were invincible?”

Smith spent much of those two weeks off helping coach his successor, then-freshman Kent Riley, who scored three touchdowns in GHS’s opening-round win over Moody. Riley will be a sophomore in the fall.

Smith saw some of himself in Riley. Smith, who graduated in May, was a sophomore when Blackmon arrived on campus in 2007.

“I was talking to Kent the other day and I said, ‘man, you’re about to be a sophomore and I was doing the same things you’re doing…taking whey protein, trying to get bigger, working hard and trying to be the leader of this team…it’s going to be here before you know it,’” said Smith.

For Blackmon, too, the three years have gone by fast.

“When he was a sophomore, he probably wasn’t ready and was probably thrown in the fire a little too early,“ said Blackmon. “But by the time he was a senior, we were worrying how we were going to replace him when he was sick because he was that important to this program.”

Smith said he plans on attending Huntingdon College where he said he will play football. He’ll also have the chance to play with his teammate, Mikwese Claybourne, in July during the AHSAA’s All-Star Football Classic as part of the South All-Stars.

He hasn’t decided on a career choice yet, but Blackmon said Smith is going to make his mark.

“Anything he puts his mind to he’s going to be successful at,” said Blackmon. “People follow Ryan. He’s a leader.”