When his age comes up, Stefan Smith quickly cracks a smile, as if he was waiting for it.
His age is no secret at Flintridge Prep. On the football field, he’s always appeared years ahead of his competition in stature and play, but actually, the Rebels’ two-way threat is a year or two behind his peers who’ll be graduating in 2014.
Coming into his senior year at 16 years old after skipping fourth grade, Smith won’t even see the field at age 17 with a January birthday.
“He’s super young for our class, he’s 16 and he looks like he’s 22, honestly,” Rebels senior middle linebacker and guard Brian Heintz said. “Every year, he just gets bigger, faster, stronger and I think this year he’s just going to come out and just wreck everybody, not even kidding, and do way better than last year.”
If that’s the case, Flintridge Prep’s opposition needs to watch out.
As a 15-year-old junior, Smith was a shoe-in for All-Area and All-Prep League first-team awards in 2012, as Prep’s most dynamic offensive threat. He tallied 1,708 total yards (1,480 rushing, 228 receiving) and 27 touchdowns (23 rushing, three receiving, one interception). On defense, the safety had four interceptions, 22.5 tackles, a forced fumble and blocked kick.
“He makes good things happen, whenever he’s on the field you just have that feeling,” Prep junior offensive and defensive lineman Cameron Wenn said.
Expectations for 2013 are even higher for Smith, who also said he wants to top what he did a year ago, in Flintridge Prep’s camp.
“I think Stefan's goal is to kind of put this team on his back and take them as far as he can,” Flintridge Prep Coach Antonio Harrison said. “The goal is always to be the best he can be. I think he wants to get more yardage, more touchdowns, be involved more in the decision making and he has the ability to do those things.”
It may have been hard for opposing teams to see Smith coming after he and the Rebels saw limited action in a 2011 season in which Prep went 1-9 and forfeited two games without enough players to field a team. Flintridge Prep averaged just 4.9 points in the eight games it did play.
While Heintz and Harrison were confident Smith was bound to break out, he didn’t know just what to expect in his first full season on varsity.
“You don’t expect too much after the season that happened two years ago,” Smith said. “We knew it was going to be better and I knew I’d have a chance to run. I’ve always been able to run the football and do stuff like that, but it was a pleasant surprise how things worked out and I just have to build on that this year.”
Despite the gaudy numbers, it appears Smith is in a good position to match, if not improve on, his offensive output for a team that averaged 34.2 points a game last year. He stands to be the team’s primary ball carrier after first-team all-leaguer Kurt Kozacik had three more carries than Smith (152) for 1,114 yards and nine touchdowns last year.
While Kyle Hamane returns and will certainly see some carries, along with fullback Derek Okuno, Smith knows more work is coming his way with Kozacik’s graduation.
“It’s the whole backfield and if they ask me to shoulder more of the load I am ready for it,” Smith said. “If they give it to Kyle or Derek, I know those guys can play.”
Harrison’s not shy about who he’s going to look to most out of the backfield. He’s even having Smith take a step back on defense, opting to use him situationally in third-and-long, “crucial plays in the game” or when the Rebels “need to intimidate somebody.”
“Last year he never came off the field — special teams, offense, defense — and he still went for what, 1,500 yards?” Harrison said. “I want to see what he can do when he gets a blow. If he's rested, I expect everybody else to watch out because he knows what he's going to be able to do.
“I totally think he can meet [his numbers last year], to be honest I think he’s going to surpass it as long as he stays healthy, especially with not having to play defense and special teams every play.”
More than just his play, Smith has looked to make an impact with his leadership after biding his time behind the 13 seniors who graduated last year, Harrison said.
“Stefan is the model Rebel football player. He’s out here, he works his ass off and everyone looks up to him, he’s like the symbol,” Heintz said. “Not only is he a great athletic player, honestly the best athlete in our class and at Flintridge Prep right now, he’s a great leader. He coaches up the younger guys and everyone looks up to him.”
Like many Rebels, it’s also about more than just football for Smith, although it’s the sport he loves most and is most successful at. He played for the basketball team and was a key member of the track and field team last year.
He’s also a good student, making the dean’s list last year, while serving on leadership councils and attending leadership summits with the school.
It’s a combination of all those things that have schools like Harvard, Princeton, BYU and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo lining up for his services on the football field next year.
He’ll be a year younger than most everyone in college football at 17, but that’s never seemed to matter.