Nothing against his play as a sophomore, but Nic Smith is a changed player from what he was a year ago, said Martin football coach Bob Wager.
Smith, who will be a junior in the fall, had a knack last season for reversing course and finding cutback lanes. That running style allowed the running back in 2013 to pile up more than 1,400 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns while averaging six yards a carry.
His game is a bit different these days. Now, Wager said, if Smith gets the slightest hole, he can dart right through it. “Now he doesn’t have to cut back,” Wager said. “That’s not a knock on him. He had a tremendous season last year. Now if he gets this much [of an opening], he’s gone.”
If Smith’s top-end speed seemed to have hit another gear in Martin’s spring practices, it might be from gains he made by competing in track. Earlier this month, Smith was part of a 4x400-meter relay team that finished second at state.
“I get in the open field and just go now,” Smith said. “I feel faster, basically.”
Linebacker Josh Watson, who will be a senior in the fall, has noticed the extra bit of turbo in Smith’s speed. “It’s a fact,” he said.
The fact is that if anyone can hope to slow down the Martin offense, which returns a 2,000-yard, 17-touchdown passer from a season ago in Eric Walker, it is Watson and the Warriors’ defense.
Last fall Watson became the only Martin player Wager has made a team captain as a junior. The physical linebacker is known for taking it to opposing players.
“He has a presence,” Wager said. “He carries a large stick.”
Martin players also look to Watson to provide critical leadership through his actions and his words. “As a junior, I was presented with the opportunity be a leader,” Watson said. “I feel like, coming back as a senior, I have to take it up to another level. I’ve got to do extra and motivate.”
Smith’s transitioning into the role of veteran leader. “I feel like I’m a leader,” Watson said. “I’m out here teaching people. It doesn’t really feel any different. Football is football.”
Smith’s trying to make sure his offensive teammates play with high intensity, finish off blocks and execute plays. “We basically just need to learn how to finish,” Smith said. “I feel like we have good athletes. It’s just a matter of teaching them and just filling them in.”
Wager’s using spring ball to identify players who will be looked to for major contributions. He’s not just trying to fill out a depth chart. Wager’s looking to discover the identity of his team. Some years, it’s a tough-nosed, run-first approach.
Other years, the offense throws more than it runs. And on defense, some years Wager wants to call a lot of blitzes. At other times, he trusted players like graduating senior Myles Garrett to apply pressure on their own.
“We’ve got to figure out who’s on our team, who’s going to play a big role for us on the varsity team,” Watson said.