RAMSEUR — When Lucas Smith was young, like so many football players growing up in the Eastern Randolph area, he said he dreamt about one day donning the green and gold of the Wildcats to help ER continue one of the most successful programs in North Carolina.
Now he’s taken center stage with so many of the other youngsters who used to spend their Friday nights at Burton Cates Stadium and they have led ER into the second round of the state 1-A tournament. Smith continued his stellar junior campaign against Cherryville in the opening round last Friday night, rushing for 148 yards on just 11 carries with four first-half touchdowns in the Wildcats’ 68-7 blowout win.
The victory was the10th straight for the third-seeded Wildcats, who will take a 10-1 record into Friday night’s second round home battle with 14th-seeded Hayesville (7-4).
Smith, who injured an ankle during the preseason and missed some time early in the season, scored on runs of 3, 1, 10 and 3 yards in the first half as ER took a 54-7 lead at the intermission.
“I’ve been a running back all my life, it’s something I really liked,” said Smith, who started playing football at age 7. “Good coaches have helped me get better and better.
“I remember playing on the side during (varsity) games, thinking about myself being out here. I felt like it put some pressure on you, like you had to do the same. But pressure is good. I like having pressure on me. It makes me better.”
It’s hard to think Smith could be much better than what he’s given the Wildcats this year. Smith was at less than full strength and saw little action in the first two games of the season, but as the year progressed, he got stronger and stronger.
“I didn’t get the start I wanted and it killed me,” Smith said of missing scrimmages and early games. “I dressed, but I didn’t play much. It was tough mentally. But I stuck with it and trusted the process.”
There wasn’t anyone happier when Smith fully recovered than veteran head coach Burton Cates.
“It gave us somebody who runs with a lot of physicality and that’s what we preach,” Cates said. “He runs with physicality. He has done that all year. There’s a toughness about him. That spurs on the offensive line. They see the effort he gives and they want to do well. He embodies what we try to do offensively and defensively. He plays as physical as he can, that’s for sure.”
Of course, a strong running game, led by Smith, freshman Kobe Walker, senior quarterback Carter Revelle and an offensive line that includes Jani Norwood, Troy Green, Ladaryan Spinks, Will Stalker and Eber Castanon, certainly aids the passing game. Revelle has displayed the ability to extend plays and throw with accuracy, going 11-for-13 for 213 yards and three scores in the first half against Cherryville.
“At the beginning of the year, we were mostly throwing the ball,” said Revelle, a 6-foot-4, 195-pounder who is enjoying an incredible season himself. “Lucas has been running great and the line has been great and Kobe is a strong runner and that allows me to pass the ball even more. Defenses have to guard the run and the pass.”
Smith said he feels it is up to him to set the tone in the running game. ER rushed for more than 300 yards last week.
“The running game works with the passing game,” Smith said. “If you can get the running game going, the passing game gets a little easier. I feel if I can set the tone every night, Carter can pass the ball really well.”
It’s been quite a balance for the Wildcats, who have outscored opponents 430-113.
In ER’s final regular season game against Randleman, a 22-21 victory that gave the Wildcats their third straight Piedmont Athletic Conference title, Smith carried the ball 30 times for 98 yards against an incredibly physical RHS defense.
“I don’t think I got out of bed the whole day except to eat or shower,” Smith said of the following Saturday. “I don’t think I will ever complain about getting carries again. But I am ready if they call.”
That has been proven every week.