As a rising freshman at Scotland High School, wide receiver Jonathan Smith spent the entirety of his summer working towards a singular goal. After his daily weight-lifting regimen, Smith would return home and run a mile each day, hoping to be in peak condition when the final days of July rolled around.
That was when the Fighting Scots football tryouts began, a week-long event that represents the most exciting, and nerve-wracking, period of the year for an aspiring Scotland athlete.
Smith’s mission was to make the junior varsity team as a freshman. And so he worked out with the JV Scots’ hopefuls July 30th and 31st, running routes and showcasing the reliability of his hands for the coaches in attendance.
But it didn’t last long, because varsity offensive coordinator Will Clark and wide receivers coach Keith Wood were watching. And as they watched the polished skill-set displayed by Smith, both coaches pulled the 15 year-old aside and moved him to the varsity practice squad.
And with that, Smith became the only freshman skill-position player to make the Fighting Scots varsity team.
“As a freshman, not too many people get this chance so I’m extremely honored,” Smith said. “I think the accomplishment means even more to me because I worked hard for it and didn’t have it handed to me.”
For the Smith family, setting goals means more than planning for the future. It’s a lifestyle, one which lays out both a destination and the journey it takes to reach that destination. When it became apparent that Smith had the desire to become a prolific football player, father and Scotland County Sheriff Jonathan Smith Sr. contacted family friend Mike Hawn, who alerted him to a football camp hosted at the University of Georgia led by Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt.
That was four years ago. Smith has attended the Mark Richt Football Camp ever since, which gives promising young athletes a chance to further polish their skills and also meet former Bulldogs (such as A.J. Green and Matt Stafford) who have parlayed their talent into lucrative NFL careers.
Throughout each camp that Smith has attended, one constant has been preached by both coach Richt and the NFL stars who have made appearances. Performance in the classroom is just as important as on the field. And watching his son surpass the goals he set forth for himself prior to his freshman year, Smith Sr. said his son’s work ethic has been the key to his success, not natural ability.
“Jonathan isn’t the type of kid where everything comes naturally to him, he’s had to work constantly in both school and in football,” said Smith Sr. of his son. “It’s a system, and if you put forth hard work you’ll get results. I think any kid could do as much as my son or more if they gave it their best effort each and every day.”
Smith’s work ethic is precisely what impressed the Fighting Scots’ varsity coaching staff when they saw the rising freshman take the field for the first time. Lacking a lightning-fast first step or big-time physical attributes, Smith instead made a name for himself with his instinctive rout running and a football IQ years ahead of many players his age.
“He’s obviously one that’s studied the game more than the average ninth grader,” said Fighting Scots head coach Richard Bailey. “He’s a very smart football player.”
“He’s not the fastest young man, but he runs solid routes and knows exactly what’s expected of him,” Keith Wood said. “He knows where to line up, has great hands and is very coachable, which is where he’ll help us the most because he’s knowledgeable.”
And help is exactly what Smith will be expected to provide right from the get go. With the season set to begin August 17th, junior wide receiver Jalen Tyson has been sidelined with a nagging hip injury, which has forced the Fighting Scots’ coaching staff to retool their early season approach to the passing game.
Depending on the game-time situations, Smith could find himself in the starting lineup quicker than he may have anticipated.
“We’re short on receivers at the moment, so he’ll need to be ready right now for us,” Wood said. “But from what we’ve seen, I think he is ready to do what we ask of him. Jonathan is definitely in that starting mold.”