To his family he is John Smith, but in high school football circles he's known as "Juju" — and the Long Beach Poly senior is every bit as colorful as his nickname.
On Friday night, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound five-star recruit showed why Scout.com rates him the No. 1 prep safety in the nation, using all of his skills to play a major role in the Jackrabbits' 28-15 season-opening victory over Crenshaw at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach.
Smith is under the microscope of every school in the Pac-12 as well as other powerhouse programs. On offense, he had five catches for 78 yards and ran three times for 37 yards against the City Section Division I finalist Cougars. Smith also shut off the middle of the field on defense as Crenshaw did not complete a pass until late in the second quarter.
"I like playing running back when they put me in there, and I'm used to it by now," Smith said. "Everyone gives Poly their best game and we knew Crenshaw would be tough. The difference is that we were more focused."
Smith's biggest impact Friday, though, was on special teams. His 32-yard kickoff return set up Poly's first points of the second half, and a dazzling 38-yard punt return led to the winning touchdown with 9:09 left. Christian Pabico caught a 41-yard strike from Tai Tiedemann to close out the scoring with 6:12 remaining.
"I approach every return with the mentality that I have to take it to the house," Smith said. "Those plays can be huge momentum swings, and if I can break a few — boom, boom, boom and we score."
Poly started 1-3 last season and was in danger of missing the playoffs, but the Jackrabbits rebounded and Smith was the catalyst of their remarkable run to the Southern Section Pac-5 Division title. He totaled 1,010 all-purpose yards with 47 receptions and made 31 tackles from the secondary.