Nature Coast’s Smith Off and Running

Photography By Alice Mary Herden

Two weeks into the prep football season, one thing has already become apparent. DeShawn Smith came ready to play. In Friday night’s 46-21 win at Hudson, Smith needed just 13 carries to accumulate 224 yards and four touchdowns.

“It went pretty straight,” Smith said. “The O-line, they block, I score.” Given the numbers, those words would probably qualify as a severe understatement. Add in his 21 rushes for 154 yards and three scores in the season-opening win over Bradenton-Southeast, and Smith already has 378 yards and seven scores. Not that it’s much of a surprise. As a junior, Smith was the county’s leading rusher with 1,498 yards, and its top scorer with 15 touchdowns.

“It was pretty good,” Smith said of his 2014 campaign. “But it could be better.” In his third full varsity season, the 5-foot-8, 185-pound senior has 2,661 career rushing yards and 33 total touchdowns. Smith said he still works hard to improve every offseason. More recently, his focus has been on endurance. Nature Coast head coach Justin Worden noticed that among the top rushers in the state, Smith had one of the lowest amount of carries. “Our goal is to get him over 200 carries,” Worden said. “He’s done a better job of taking care of himself and he’s in excellent shape.”

Not only are the Sharks attempting to increase his offensive workload, but Smith also sees significant time at cornerback. He has 103 career tackles and three interceptions. Worden said the idea is to play Smith in spots on defense, particularly in important district games. How much depends on the opposing offensive scheme.

However, his greatest impact is certainly made when he has the football in his hands. “A lot of people look at him and he’s not the biggest looking dude in the world, but he’s strong as an ox,” Worden said. “People look at him as just a speed guy, but out of 1,400 yards (last year), probably 1,000 were tackle to tackle. He’s an inside runner for us.”

What isn’t shown in Smith’s stats from the previous season were the two touchdowns he scored in a three-way tiebreaker for the district runner-up spot. After defeating Pasco, Nature Coast ultimately lost to Zephyrhills, 7-6. The Sharks last made the playoffs in 2009. “It was a learning experience. We’ll just learn from it and it gave us more drive, more push,” Smith said. “We know we can get there. We’re trying to be different. We’re not trying to be like every other group. We know if we trained a little harder, we could have been there. We could have made one more play.”

The goals now, Smith said, are to get back to postseason play, preferably as the district champs, and earn the first playoff win in school history. “Everything is going pretty good. We’re taking it game by game, step by step,” Smith said. “I’m trying to lead the team and have no fumbles. Everything else is going to come.”

What has already come are several college offers. He listed Marshall, FAMU and Western Illinois as the schools that have most peaked his interest. “He’s so versatile,” Worden said. “I know talking to Marshall, they really like him. They think he has the ability to play receiver and running back… He needs to find somewhere that’s a good fit for him and his skill set. If he finds somewhere that can really utilize him, I think he’ll flourish.”

Previous Nature Coast running backs Tevin Drake and Matt Breida have already found a measure of success at the college level, and Smith said he’d love to follow in those footsteps. Yet don’t expect a decision anytime soon. He’s looking into the academic side, and doesn’t want to redshirt his first season. “Right now I’m just playing ball,” Smith said. “I’ll probably focus on it more after the season.”

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