Column: Unbeaten Oak Park is led by ‘freak’ athlete Gianni Smith
That’s what people call Gianni Smith of Oak Park. Yes, he’s a kicker with a free-spirited personality, but he’s so much more.
He’s the quarterback for a 10-0 team. He’s a three-year starter for the soccer team. He’s a shot putter, discus thrower and hurdler for the track team.
He’s got shoulder-length blond hair and enjoys making fans get excited when they witness something surprising.
“I do enjoy being called a freak,” the 6-foot-1, 210-pound senior said. “But it’s how I play on the field. I’m a little unconventional. You don’t usually see a quarterback with about foot-long hair who can kick a ball as far as I can.”
In a perfect world, Smith wouldbe a kicker/punter for the Eagles. But coach Casey Webb needed a quarterback, so Smith gladly volunteered to help.
“He does everything for us,” Webb said.
As a freshman, Smith played five positions. As a sophomore, he was the junior varsity quarterback while also playing linebacker and kicking. As a junior on varsity, he was a receiver and linebacker.
“I’m kind of happy I’ve been able to focus on so many positions so I can see how football works,” he said.
Running back Jaishawn Smith leads Compton with 1,299 yards rushing.
He started getting serious about kicking last January when he received tutoring from a private coach and began attending kicking camps. He thinks kicking will be his opportunity to play in college and beyond. He has three field goals, with a long of 43. He comes from the high school where Erik Affholter once kicked a 64-yard field goal. He’d be happy to try one that long considering how windy it’s been.
“I do not like wind because when you’re going against wind, it’s one of the most painful things as a kicker and quarterback,” he said. “That ball just hangs in the air. But when the wind is at your back, it’s pretty nice.”
The good news about Smith is that if the ball doesn’t go into the end zone on a kickoff, resulting in a touchback, he’s quite a tackler. In fact, he has picked up a couple of personal fouls with his tackles.
“I hit them a little too hard,”he said. “I apologized — kind of. If it’s not in the end zone and they try to break it, you can expect me to be there.”
Oak Park is seeded No. 1 in the Southern Section Division 12 playoffs after winning the Canyon League championship. The Eagles will play host to Pasadena Maranatha in their playoff opener Friday night.
Smith has passed for 1,750 yards and 25 touchdowns, and rushed for nearly 500 yards and four touchdowns.
“Sometimes people think I’m going to run through them, but I run around them because they don’t expect it,” he said. “I like keeping people on their heels.”
Webb is just glad Smith continues to answer the call to duty.
“He’s a throwback,” Webb said. “He’s very selfless. Realistically, he just wanted to focus on kicking and punting. He always says, ‘I’ll do whatever the team needs.’”
Call Smith whatever you like, but he added, “I kind of like being called a freak.”
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