Smithhart inherits experienced club

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The St. Aloysius Flashes needed a good kick in the pants.

After 10 years under coach Jim Taylor, they were getting complacent and lazy. They knew the routine, what to expect. When Taylor retired last spring and was replaced by B.J. Smithhart, that all changed.

“It was too relaxed,” St. Al quarterback Chris Lewis said. “I love Coach Taylor, but we had gotten lax. This brought new life to the team. (Smithhart) doesn’t allow laziness.”

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Smithhart shook up the routine. He allowed more contact during practice and put all of the starting jobs up for grabs. He also inherited a team willing to break its bad habits and, hopefully, break out of the malaise that has contributed to only one winning season since 2003.

“It’s looking a lot better than it has the last four years, mainly because of the seniors,” said offensive lineman Cole Whitney, one of 11 returning seniors. “They’re going to be seeing a completely different team than they’ve seen the last four years.”

Smithhart’s plan for improving the Flashes, though, involves a lot of familiar faces.

Lewis enters his third year as St. Al’s starting quarterback. He threw for just 658 yards in 2007, but led the team in rushing with 634 yards and eight touchdowns. Joining him in the backfield are Brendan Beesley and Justin Hosemann, who saw enough playing time last season to combine for more than 700 rushing yards. Ryno Martin-Nez, a speedy junior, also returns after taking a year off from football to focus on baseball.

Martin-Nez will also join Regan Nosser at receiver, as the Flashes try to mix and match the right combinations to maximize a potentially explosive offense.

“There’s no dropoff in the backfield from anywhere I’ve been. Those kids are tough. We’re bigger in our backfield than I was at Stone,” said Smithhart, an ex-Warren Central player who came to St. Al after a two-year stint as an assistant at Stone High.

On the line, St. Al lost three starters but is replacing them with a couple of seniors. In addition to Whitney, the Flashes will have Price Blagg, Tim Marshall and Collins Bove to block. The three all tip the scales at close to 290 pounds. Whitney is a three-year starter, and sophomore Matt Wooten will likely fill out what could be a dominant starting five.

The downside to the bulk up front is that it’s the same group who will anchor the defensive line. Smithhart said it was crucial to pick a few spots to give them a breather not only on defense, but on offense as well.

“That’s the thing, is let’s try to find them some spots to rest. One, to let that young guy grow up. And two, as the season goes along you’re going to need those sophomores. You want them to be ready,” Smithhart said.

St. Al’s opener is against Bogue Chitto, expected to be ranked in the top five in Class 1A. Beyond that, perennial powers Puckett and Mount Olive loom as region opponents. With such a stacked region, it’s entirely possible the Flashes could win seven or eight games in the regular season and barely squeak into the playoffs. Only one of the 11 games on the schedule — the Oct. 17 contest at Madison-St. Joe — is not a region game.

It’s a terrifying gauntlet for the most hardened football team. A loss against any one of the “big three” — Bogue Chitto, Puckett and Mount Olive — would seem to drop the Flashes down a playoff spot immediately. With only four playoff berths available, other slip-ups in the region could keep them home altogether.

“I’ve never played 10 district games in a year before,” Smithhart said. “If you lose one of the big three, it puts you behind the 8-ball.”