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While Coaches Raved, Smith Performed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As a rule, journalists are leery of high school coaches who rave about their players.

Reporters accept that many coaches fudge heights, weights and statistics to help players receive attention. They also understand that a little hyperbole is an integral part of coachspeak .

Too much hype, however, can be plain annoying.

Anyone who has covered high school sports long enough has dealt with such coaches. I thought I had encountered this situation for the first time in August.

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That’s when Keith Smith, Newbury Park High’s senior quarterback, began receiving so much praise that I wondered if he had the goods on some people.

I knew Smith was good, but the deluge of complimentary adjectives was getting ridiculous. No kid, I thought, was good enough to warrant such tribute from adults.

Wrong!

Smith is as good as the coaches said--and they said a lot.

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In gathering information for a preview on the Marmonte League football season, I was hit with one overblown adjective--or so I thought--after another about Smith.

Coaches in the league told me that Smith is “the greatest quarterback to ever play in Ventura County” . . . “the county’s greatest athlete” of all time . . . “one of the state’s best quarterbacks” of all time . . . “one of the (state’s) best athletes of all time” . . .

“Enough already!” I wanted to scream.

But with each week came another victory for Newbury Park, and I came to understand what all the fuss was about. Smith, who can throw a football 70 yards, completed 66% of his attempts for a state-record 4,244 yards. He had 40 touchdown passes and only 13 interceptions.

Smith (6-feet, 180 pounds) finished as the state’s all-time leader and second in the nation with 9,971 yards. He is tied for second all time in the state with 87 touchdown passes.

He also is spectacular running with the ball.

Smith, who covers 40 yards in 4.5 seconds, led the Panthers in rushing with 774 yards (a 7.44-yard average) and 11 touchdowns.

In three seasons, he had 11,457 yards passing and rushing--another state record. He also ranks third all time in the nation in combined offense.

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Having talented receivers helps, and Smith had some of the best. He credits the Panthers’ receivers and offensive linemen for his success, but they now know how lucky they have been to have played with him.

But like gifted athletes at any level, Smith cannot be defined by statistics alone.

He was at his best when it counted most: the playoffs.

Smith rallied the Panthers to victories from 14-0 first-quarter deficits in the semifinal and championship games.

Newbury Park defeated Hawthorne, 22-14, in the Southern Section Division III title game, capping a perfect season (14-0).

Against perennial power Hawthorne, Smith passed for 259 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 157 yards and one touchdown--a breathtaking, title-clinching, 98-yard run. Many veteran coaches and reporters said it was the greatest play in a section high school championship game.

Many talented athletes have played quarterback at high schools in the region.

Anthony Davis, John Elway, Tom Tunnicliffe and Tom Ramsey are a few of those teen-age signal callers who deservedly earned headlines. But in my opinion, I covered the best area high school quarterback of all time.

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I don’t know what the future holds for Smith.

The odds are against him going on to professional football stardom. He might not become a great college quarterback. But he was a great high school quarterback.

Sometimes, I’ve learned, you can believe the hype.


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