It was a strange but true circumstance that in a season where he was named to the NCPreps.com 1A All-State team, Zack Smith rarely had his name called or mentioned in any newspaper articles.
The 6’5”, 250-pound senior spent most of his time playing on the offensive line for the West 1AA champion Granite Bears, who posted a 14-1 season and reached the 1AA state championship game before falling to unbeaten Tarboro. And it just so happens that an offensive lineman often does his best work when you never need to call his name — it means he never missed a blocking assignment.
Zack Smith didn’t miss his blocking assignments. And people noticed.
Smith was a two-year starter for the Bears during seasons where they posted a combined record of 27-3 with two conference titles. He earned All-Conference honors at offensive tackle both seasons, but got his greatest recognition when the All-State Team was announced.
“I didn’t think I would get All-State, but the fact I did showed just how hard I had been working and showed that peopled noticed how much I contributed to this team,” said Smith, who was one of four Mount Airy players named to the team. He said he was excited when he received word that his high-school career would be capped off by such an honor.
A number of college programs expressed interest in Smith continuing his football career at the next level. On Friday, March 9, Smith was one of seven Mount Airy players who signed national letters of intent, choosing to play for Wofford College for the next four seasons.
He chose the Terriers, a member of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision and the Southern Conference, over an offer from Guilford College. Smith said that Wofford, located in Spartanburg, S.C., was a better fit for him both academically and athletically.
“(Wofford) has an excellent pre-med program, and the coaching staff is fantastic, as well as the facilities,” said Smith, who plans to be a pre-med major and pursue his goal of becoming an anesthesiologist. “I considered Guilford College, but it seemed not as well-oriented for what I wanted to do as a football player and as a student.”
Coaches at Wofford have told Smith that he will be working from the right tackle position, which is where he spent most of his time at Mount Airy.
Smith was an immediate standout when he joined the 2016 team, which entered the year already tabbed as a potential championship contender. The Bears won their first 10 games of the year, a share of the Northwest 1A Conference title, then won three state playoff games to reach the regional final for the first time since 2009. However, Mount Airy’s season ended in a 31-21 loss to West Montgomery.
The returning Bears made it their goal in 2017 to atone for that stumble.
“It was definitely a thought every week,” Smith said of his senior season. “We were playing to (make the championship). As soon as we got to the regionals, where we had lost the year before, there was nothing that was going to stop us. We were so focused on going to the state championship.”
Mount Airy had to beat Murphy, the 2016 1A state champion, to get to the state finals, but beat the Bulldogs in an exciting 49-35 shootout, and the program reached the championship game for the first time in eight seasons.
“I’d say the biggest accomplishment was us going to the state championship in Raleigh,” he said. “I thought it was awesome, it’s something that not a lot of high school athletes get to achieve. Despite our loss, I had a great time and I’ll never forget it.”
Smith is excited about the prospect of trying to earn playing time for the Terriers, who went 10-3 and earned a share of the SoCon title last fall. But he said he’ll still be around from time to time.
“I’m going to miss playing with the seniors who signed with me and the players who are still here,” he said. “I’m excited about college, but I’ll definitely be back to watch them play.“
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.