Mansfield Lake Ridge defensive coordinator Billy Smith died on Wednesday following a three-year battle with cancer, according to head coach Kirk Thor.
Smith, who has been with the program since the school opened in 2012, was battling thyroid cancer.
He was first diagnosed in July 2016. He received surgery in January, but the cancer came back in July more aggressively.
“Solid character and strong integrity,” Thor said. “He loved kids and changed many of their lives. It was a calling for him and he made a huge difference. He had a quiet strength and was very humble. He never wanted to be the center of attention, he wanted the kids to get the credit.
“He was a kid magnet and if a kid was going through tough times, he was their rock. A lot of the culture at Lake Ridge has developed over the years because of Billy Smith. He was a team-first guy and made everyone around him better.”
Thor and Smith’s relationship goes back 21 years when Smith was an assistant at Edmond Santa Fe High School in Oklahoma in 1998. Thor was hired that year and they became close friends ever since.
“That’s all our families and kids knew,” Thor said. “Huge impact on coaches and kids. It’s a tough loss, but we’ll get through it. He had amazing faith, he was rock solid and he was at peace with the whole situation.”
Thor and Smith embarked on a two-decade long coaching journey with their next stop at Houston Christian. The two went to Mansfield High when Thor became the head coach in 2004.
Following a stint in administration for Thor, while Smith was at Legacy, the two coaches opened Lake Ridge in 2012.
“He was the first phone call I made,” Thor said.
While Smith’s cancer came back aggressively in July, he continued to go back and forth during treatments. He missed half the season when he got the initial diagnosis in 2016, but coached the entire season in 2018 even while doing chemotherapy.
“Billy Smith was a great man and his passing is a tremendous and devastating loss to the many students, coaches and staff members he impacted. Billy was so selfless and never made anything about him, even during his illness,” said Mansfield ISD Director of Athletics Philip O’Neal.
Smith was an offensive assistant then became assistant head coach early on at Lake Ridge, but has been the primary defensive coordinator since 2016.
“Billy was at every game and every practice last season even with the tough battles and side effects,” Thor said. “We’ll continue to play hard because that’s what he’d want. Don’t focus on me, but on the kids and make it a great season is what he’d say. We’re going to keep doing what were doing and keep the family in our thoughts and prayers as we move forward.”
The Eagles have gone 54-17 since 2014, including 2-1 this season. They went to the 5A Division 1 state title game in 2015.
“He left a lasting legacy in this community, and we will continue to honor him and his family who supported him as he influenced so many,” O’Neal said. “My prayers and sincere condolences go to his family in this time of grief.”