Senior tight end makes varsity after two-year football hiatus


Katie Williams

Senior Bryce Smith observes from the sideline while the defense runs their drill.

By Henry DeWitt, Sports Editor

Bryce Smith does it all. Tennis. Link Crew. The student body co-president. Anything to be involved.

Whether it is running a pep assembly or leading the student section, he is sure to make his presence known.

Last year as a junior, Smith watched from the student section, disappointed that the football team lost another game. He realized there was no point in yelling from the sidelines. The only way he could actually have an impact on the team was to lace up his cleats, strap on the pads and take the field.

“I was frustrated with losing a lot,” Smith said. “I could potentially do something.”

After all, how hard could it be?

In third grade, Smith decided to bring his favorite video game, Madden, to life by joining the Gorillas, a youth football team in Lawrence, where he played mostly offensive line. He was disappointed to find out that playing offensive line was not anything like Madden, but he still had fun playing with his friends.

After playing all the way through middle school, Smith joined the LHS freshman football team. At the beginning of the season, he played almost every down. Offensive line. Tight end. Even getting reps on defense. Late in the season, Smith missed a game with the flu and did not play the rest of the year.

His heart was not in it like it used to be. Day after day of the same thing tired him out. He was done. Seven years of football ended after his freshman year.

The tennis season began in the spring, a sport that he had played throughout middle school. Now, after quitting football, this would be his main sport.

Sophomore and junior year he played exclusively tennis. While he loved the sport itself, something was missing.

His whole life he had done sports to be part of a team. Win and lose as a team. Work as a team. Do everything as a team. However, the team mentality that Smith possessed was lost in tennis, an individual sport.

From the student section of another home football loss, Smith realized that he missed it. He missed the game. He missed the work. Most of all, he missed the brotherhood that a team sport brings. He decided it was time for a comeback.

His freshman year, he lacked a drive, only occasionally going to preseason football workouts.

If he was going to make this comeback successful, he was going to have to put in the work. Hard work.

Every morning, he forced himself to go to the preseason workouts. Every single one. Lifting weights for the first time in his life. He struggled. But he never stopped.

In just his second week of training, he strapped up his pads for the first time in three years to do a full contact football workout at KU.

“He was rusty,” right tackle Drew Meyer said of Smith’s first practice, where he got most reps as a right tackle. After practice, Smith was asked to stick around and block for the JV workout session.

“It was humbling,” Smith said, “That’s embarrassing, a senior playing with JV.”

He wanted more than JV, making sure that everyday he got better, hopefully making varsity.

After months of tireless work, he realized that he had a good shot to make varsity as tight end. Ultimately, that was his end goal.

When the season started, Smith was named starting tight end. But Smith knew as well as anyone that his work coming back was far from over.

“He’s putting in extra time and effort in trying to learn the scheme again,” offensive line and tight ends coach Benjamin Ehret said.

Coach Ehret has high hopes for the offensive line. And Smith brings the energy that the team may have needed last year.

“Bryce Smith is a spark plug,” Meyer said. “Bryce is always able to pick us up and get practice going.”

The work that Smith put in paid off. In just his second game back on the field, the Lions played the Shawnee Mission East Lancers. With time winding down in the first half, the Lions found themselves on the four-yard line. A touchdown would put the Lions two possessions ahead.

The ball is snapped. Junior quarterback Jackson Dooley under pressure. He throws it up. The ball is caught by none other than number 84 Bryce Smith. Touchdown.

The Lions would go on to beat the Lancers. Smith wanted to help the team more than yelling from the sidelines. With a touchdown reception in a victory, that wish became a reality. But Smith knows as well as any his role on the team.

“It’s not about me,” Smith said. “I want to be the best I can for the team.”