Running is something Smith discovered he enjoyed and excelled at from a young age.
“I found out that I was able to run [competitively] in fourth grade and then once I got to middle school it was football in the fall and track in the spring. In my eighth-grade year I felt like football wasn’t going to be something that I got into so I decided to run cross country,” Smith said.
Smith isn’t the only member of his family to take to running. During her time at Bradley, Smith’s sister was a sprinter on the track team.
“My sister Kimberly was a sprinter here at Bradley. My mom wasn’t a part of any sports teams, but my dad played soccer at a community college,” Smith stated. “We probably picked up the running from my dad.”
The senior runner has been continually building on his experience and level of performance over the past few years, which is evident whenever the latest Chattanooga Area Cross Country League results are posted.
“I like to have the ability to show the talent that God has given me. I’m good at it and I would like to keep going with it,” Smith explained.
Smith has been a presence since his freshman season in 2010, when his time of 17:16.55 earned him a second place finish at the 3-AAA regional competition as well as a trip to the state competition.
In his first trip to Nashville, Smith finished 51st with a time of 17:21.91.
The young runner’s sophomore season in 2011 showed a marked improvement, with Smith shaving a good deal of time off of his 5,000-meter race.
Again, Smith placed second in regional competition with a finish of 16:47.44 and advanced to state where he moved up in the pack with a time of 16:47.27, which earned him a 19th place finish.
Last year showed even more of an improvement for Smith, who claimed the individual championship in the region with a time of 16:26.51 and then went on to place 14th at Nashville with a time of 16:49.54.
According to Smith, his coach for his first three years of high school has played a pivotal role in his cross country success.
“My old coach, Coach Cotton, gave me tips on how I can do better and pushed me to limits that I thought I couldn’t do, but now I realize that I can do it,” Smith said.
Smith also credits his friend and teammate, senior Collin Gwaltney, with helping him continually push himself further.
“I have one friend who is just an inspiration to me. We push each other and when I’m not doing well in practice he cheers me on,” Smith commented.
With his senior season just past its halfway point, Smith seems poised for big things.
Out of the six meets that he has participated this season, four have resulted in first place finishes with the other two being second place finishes.
“In the Chattanooga League the first place wins help me see where I’m at. When it comes to the big meets, it all changes and it’s like I’m a brand new runner because of all the talent. I try to take it one step at a time and one race at a time,” Smith commented.
So what exactly does the strong-willed competitor think about while he outpaces the vast majority of his competition?
“Some of the time I think about trying not to blow the race and try to focus on my breathing and the mental aspects, like how far I have left in the race,” Smith explained. “My mentality is to finish the race and then once I’m done I have a week to relax and recover. Basically it’s just me trying to finish the race and not give up the lead.”
Besides focusing on his end goal, Smith also has a decided strategy during the meets.
“I like getting out because I don’t like dealing with getting boxed in and spiked. I feel like I’m more into getting out ahead and settling into a pace. Some people are able to start out slow and increasing, negatively splitting each mile. I can’t do that, it’s very hard for me. I want to start out strong and end strong,” Smith explained.
Smith’s personal best in the 5,000 is a time of 16:05.87, while his 2013 season best currently stands at 16:25.09.
“I want my times to go down a little bit more, but I think I’m going to peak around a good time. I just don’t want to peak early,” Smith commented. “I would like to get my time down to 15:45 or 15:50, somewhere around there. I’m hoping to get into the top five at state this year. I’m more worried about where I place than my time.”
Not only is Smith a cross country runner, he also competes on the Bears’ track team in the spring. In the spring Smith claimed a seventh place podium spot for the 800-meter race at the TSSAA Spring Fling in Murfreesboro.
“I like track more because I feel that I do better, but cross country is one race and you’re done. In track you have three or four races and it takes an average of six hours for a meet to finish,” Smith said. “You have to show how good you are in every event that you do. I like track better because I do better and have a lot to show for it.”
Since it is his senior year, college and running at the collegiate level are definitely on Smith’s mind.
“I’d like to go to the University of Tennessee,” Smith declared. “Their assistant coach, Rodney Stoker, has let me know that he’s watching me. The way I look at is that since he’s watching, me I have to give everything I have to try to get a scholarship and into the school.”
Although Smith has been burning through the cross country meets, Bradley’s team as a whole has struggled.
“It’s been a major drop from my freshman year. The team has dropped off in talent, but we’re in the rebuilding stage now and it takes time,” Smith stated. “We don’t win all these meets, but I see that everyone likes the sport. We can build off of that.”
Smith will travel with the Bears to the Jesse Owens Classic in Oakville, Ala., on Saturday, when he hopes to have a better race than last year’s event.
“Last year it was a muddy race and I think I might have gotten a 16:20, I was off by 15 seconds on my PR and had a good place,” Smith said. “This year I’d like to get in the top three with a 15:45 or 15:50.”