In Friday night’s football game at Wallace Shelton Stadium, West Stokes quarterback Alex Manley dropped back and lofted a ball down the left sideline.
Receiver Alex Helvey had gotten behind the defense and looked like he might haul in a long TD pass.
Then the Mount Airy defensive back turned on the turbo booster, made up three yards in a second and knocked the ball away to save six points.
It was a play that Kenyon Smith couldn’t have made a year ago.
The senior wide receiver/cornerback is feeling healthy again after two separate health issues last year.
“He’s a bright spot on this team,” said Donald Price, assistant coach and athletic director. “It’s a pleasure to have him. … He labored a lot last year. He’s been cleared to play and working hard. … He’s been smooth.”
The first issue came up last summer during 7-on-7 drills.
It wasn’t from contact, Smith said. Running a pass route, the receiver planted to make a cut and felt a pop in his knee.
The diagnosis was a tear in the meniscus in the joint.
According to the Mayo Clinic, this is a very common injury during twisting motions, affecting about 3 million people a year.
The tear occurs in the rubbery padding that keeps the shinbone from the thigh bone. If the tear actually pulls part of the padding off from the main pad, surgery can be necessary to remove the free-floating piece.
At the time of his retirement, former Charlotte Hornet Muggsy Bogues had undergone so many surgeries for damaged cartilage that the team doctor said the two bones were grinding together in the joint.
In this case, Smith said his knee wasn’t bad enough to require surgery. He rested the leg for a a couple of weeks then rejoined the team.
Smith said he could run straight just fine, but the knee remained sore on cuts for a long time.
In DB drills in practice, Smith struggled to keep up with teammates Cordell France, Davontae Dobson and Caleb Horton. He occasionally would need to sit down to rest.
By the end of the season, Smith thought he could put this knee problem behind him and move on to wrestling season.
Then a new issue arose. The junior wasn’t feeling well, and a routine checkup found his blood pressure was well above normal at 180/89.
That set off warning bells for the doctor, who ordered a whole battery of tests to see if there was any bigger underlying problem.
No other issues were found, and Smith was put on medication to regulate his pressure.
However, one warning from the doctor would put Smith’s wrestling season in jeopardy.
Don’t cut weight.
Many high school athletes bulk up for football season, then diet and exercise to reduce weight for wrestling.
In 2011, East Surry’s Jacob Fregia lifted weights and ate lots of food to get up to 180 pounds to play fullback, then dropped down to 160 before winning the state 1A wrestling title months later. Surry Central state champion Wes Brown was more than 235 pounds and wrestled at 220.
As a sophomore, Smith had wrestled at 138, but during football season last year the junior was around 152.
For wrestling, that was a bad weight because the Bears were loaded around that size.
The Bears were returning Shay Wilson at 145 pounds, Triston Mabry at 152, Felipe Lopez at 160, Cameron Pack at 170 and Landon Mumford at 182. The weights were so stacked that Andrew Moore wrestled up at 195 even though he was about 172 pounds.
The best chance Smith had to start was to return to 138, but the doctor said no.
Smith attended matches to cheer on his teammates, and he said he did get a chance to fill in for a missing starter on two occasions, but that was a far cry from the 20-win season he was envisioning.
Back in the spring, Price said Smith was in the weight room when he could, and once school let out for summer, Smith was doing everything the football asked of him.
Smith said he doesn’t even notice the knee during games. It doesn’t hurt now, just a little discomfort.
As for the hypertension, Smith said he hasn’t been bothered by any medication side effects. In fact, the only time he doesn’t feel fine is when he forgets to take his pill.
In Friday’s game with the Wildcats, Smith not only played defensive back, but helped out on offense, too. RB Sean Evans went down with a torn ACL in the first game, and Smith is needed more on that side. In the fourth quarter with the Bears trying to come back, Smith reached down low to pick up a pass near his shoelaces for a 3-yard TD reception that made it a one-score game.
With Wilson, Mabry, Lopez, Mumford and Moore all graduated, Smith looks forward to being a key part of the wrestling team this winter, too.
Smith and the rest of the Granite Bears football team will be in action tonight in Elkin at 7:30 p.m.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.