ST. FRANCISVILLE — Often tasked with setting the defensive front, West Feliciana linebacker Hunter Smith often starts with setting a tone.
Soft-spoken and with a wide smile off the field, Smith — a junior — transforms on the field, in the middle of any pregame huddle or speech nearly expending all his energy.
“Just pretty hyped up and screaming,” Smith said. “More than I should, wasting my breath sometimes trying to pump everyone else up. Just telling them we can do everything we believe in.”
The team saw the movie “Woodlawn” — a true story of a Birmingham, Ala., high school football team’s struggle to bond through desegregation — before the Saints’ final regular season game against Glen Oaks. Smith’s interest piqued at the team’s mantra: “Believe. No Fear.”
Smith now wears the saying on the back of his helmet, scribbled on a piece of athletic tape. The adversity the movie portrays pales in comparison to what Smith’s Saints face in the quarterfinals of the Class 3A playoffs against Iowa, but Smith asserts the saying is still pertinent.
“It brought the whole (Woodlawn) community together,” Smith said. “We just believe that we can go all the way to the Dome. Set a goal last year after we came up short.”
For Smith, it’s been a lifelong goal.
He started running in fifth grade in hopes of fulfilling his boyhood dreams of becoming a college football player. Two years later, he approached West Feliciana football coach Robb Odom, asking to join his team in offseason workouts. Odom was skeptical and told the youngster to wait until he was in eighth grade and more mature.
So he continued running until Odom obliged.
“He’d be out here during the summer time (in) eighth grade going into his ninth grade year, doing ropes, ladders. Anything we did, he’d come over here and do it with us,” Odom said. “He just wants to be good.”
Odom’s had the luxury of having many similar players in the program, but he struggles to compare Smith to any former Saint. A special teams player as a freshman, Odom said Smith stood out immediately with a keen nose for the football.
Since that first season, improvement has been steady. Smith’s shaved his 40-yard dash time down to 4.69 and bulked up to 207 pounds in the offseason thanks to more dedication in the weight room.
Off the field, it’s much of the same. Teammates are hard pressed to find anything Smith does on a day-to-day basis not involving football. Enjoying sushi and time with his girlfriend was all sophomore safety Darius Davis remembered.
Smith’s obsession stems from perfection. If it were up to him, blowouts would be the norm, and opponents wouldn’t gain a yard on his defense.
“Nah, that’s not feasible,” Smith laughed. “I don’t like to do anything wrong, I guess you could say. Losing’s never on my mind. I just want to do everything perfect and blow everyone out. Shut everyone out.”
Odom would be just fine with those results. For now, he relishes one certainty with his man in the middle.
“Glad we have him another year.”