Going into the 2015 season, North Surry head football coach Danny Lyons knew the Greyhounds needed to make some changes.
The year before, the Hounds had suffered through a second consecutive dismal four-win campaign that didn’t include a trip to the state playoffs. What North Surry was doing simply wasn’t working.
One of the biggest changes that Lyons made concerned a radical retooling of the team’s offense. And the coach had just the guy he needed to make that happen — a 6’1”, 175-pound then-junior named Avery Smith.
“We switched offenses two years ago, and he was the biggest reason why we did that,” said Lyons. “He has a high football IQ, and all of the tools physically to play quarter, and he has the tools to be even better.”
Lyons’ new offense, which he dubbed the “Air Raid,” took the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference by storm in 2015. As the triggerman for a spread offense that often featured four wide receivers, Smith threw for 2,439 yards, ran for another 882, and accounted in some way for 37 North Surry touchdowns. His efforts earned him co-Player of the Year honors in the WPAC. More importantly, the Hounds reversed their 4-7 record of the year before into 7-4, and returned to the state playoffs for the first time since 2013. The highlight came in the regular-season finale, when North Surry needed to beat Forbush in order to assure itself of a trip to the playoffs. However, so did the Falcons.
In that game, Forbush scored a touchdown with 3:58 remaining and then surprised the Hounds with a two-point conversion to take a 29-28 lead. Smith calmly rallied his troops and led the Greyhounds to a score of their own, retaking the lead at 36-29 with 53 seconds to play. North’s Darius Duncan then made a tackle on the Falcons’ Hail Mary pass at the Hounds’ 5-yard line as time expired, ending one of the most exciting games of the season.
“That was the best game I played here,” said Smith, who scored the winning touchdown on a four-yard run. “We were down, and we had one last drive, and we scored to win the game.”
Smith’s senior season was filled with adversity both for himself and for the team, which suffered several key injuries and was unable to meet preseason expectations. Still, Smith threw for 1,231 yards in nine games and ran for another 992 — he was North Surry’s main running threat for most of the season due to a season-ending injury to the team’s starting running back — and when the Greyhounds reached the end of the regular season needing one more win for a return to the postseason, he threw for 228 yards and ran for 121 in rallying his team to a 27-23 win over Forbush.
“Our senior tailback got hurt, and Avery had to take on even more responsibility,” said Lyons. “He was the man back there and he did a great job of it.”
North Surry’s season ended in a loss two weeks later against Shelby, which went on to win its fourth consecutive state championship. But that won’t be the last the game of football has heard from Avery Smith. Last week, the senior committed to continuing his career at the collegiate level for Averett University. Smith chose the Cougars over offers from Guilford and Lenoir-Rhyne.
“I liked the school, and the coaches were very good to talk to,” Smith said of his visit to Averett. “I’ll have a chance to compete with a senior quarterback as a freshman, and then three more years to play.”
Averett, a member of the USA South Conference based in Danville, Va., posted a 5-5 record in 2016. However, the Cougars are trending strongly upward. Prior to 2016, they had suffered through five straight losing seasons. Head coach Cleive Adams was hired from rival Ferrum two years ago to get Averett back on track, and his 2015 team broke several team records, but narrowly lost several close games and finished 2-7. Last fall, the Cougars broke even on the ledger, but moved into the upper half of their conference with a 4-3 league mark. Smith is an excellent fit for the team’s offensive style, and Averett recruited him extensively.
“The coaches at Averett are very excited to have him. They know what he can do athletically,” said Lyons. “It’s going to be cool to see him grow even more as a football player.”
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.