He knew those kids would be the future of the Piedmont football program.
Those kids bought into what Smith was trying to sell. Four years later, it’s paying dividends.
On Wednesday’s National Signing Day, the Class 3A state champion Bulldogs (13-2) had six players sign on their letters of intent. The six were Seth Reedy (Southern Miss), Christian Cantrell (Tennessee Tech), Chase Childers (Birmingham Southern), Luke Smith (Shorter College), Tay Holloway and Terrick Spear (both with Stillman College).
“It’s a great moment for our school, and for our football team,” Steve Smith said. “It goes back to what we try to preach to them each year. Obviously, kids like to have recognition, but the success of our program is going to dictate a lot as far as the amount of attention our kids get and the opportunities they get. The college coaches can’t hit every school in every state, but they make sure they hit the hot spots of places that have successful programs, and these kids have done a great job of putting our program back on the map.”
The biggest of the Bulldog signings – both literally and figuratively – was Reedy (6-foot-4, 270-pound offensive lineman). He signed with Southern Mississippi after weighing late interest from the University of Tennessee over the weekend.
Reedy, who committed to the Golden Eagles back in October, said he wanted to be a man of his word.
“They (Tennessee) wanted me to go on an official visit and possibly offer me, but I really didn’t have a good feeling about that,” Reedy said. “I didn’t want to ruin anything with Southern Miss. I just told them my dad has preached to me since I was a kid to be a man of my word, and I stuck to it.”
In 2009, Reedy graded out at 96 percent and allowed only one sack. He posted over 112 pancake blocks and was selected to the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic.
Reedy said chances look good for him to play early in his collegiate career. He said Southern Miss had four linemen graduate after last season.
“I think if I can get a little bit bigger and stronger, I can possibly get into the rotation and play a little bit.,” he said. “They’ve had a 1,000-yard rusher for four years in Damian Fletcher, who is an All-American. I just want help all the running backs get all the yards they can.”
One back that Reedy helped block for at Piedmont was Cantrell, who posted 1,823 yards and 22 touchdowns on 190 carries last season.
However, Cantrell said Tennessee Tech plans to utilize his talent as a defensive back. Last season, Cantrell allowed only nine pass completions thrown his way. He also had an interception and broke up six passes.
“I’m just really relieved that the day is finally here for me to sign and go to the next level,” Cantrell said. “I felt like I was at home when I went there. I felt like I was in Piedmont. They treat me just like they treat everybody else.
“I’m very appreciative to be able to be a part of this day. I’ve just got to continue to work hard and be dedicated.”
One of Cantrell’s teammates in the offensive backfield was senior quarterback Childers.
Childers passed for 1,130 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He also rushed for an additional 1,369 yards and 16 scores on 186 carries.
Childers said he’s also relieved to know he’ll continue his football playing days.
“I’ve been stressing and worrying about that,” he said. “I’m glad to know where I’m going, and it’s all done. Now I get to enjoy the last part of my senior year.
Childers said he’ll most likely be a backup his first year with the Panthers, who re-established their football program in 2007.
“I think last year was the first full class of freshmen they had, so they’ve got a lot of young players and a lot of potential,” Childers said. “They have a senior quarterback next year. They said they wanted me to learn under him. If I take care of business and compete well, I might get to be starting as a sophomore. I’m looking forward to that.”
Luke Smith said it’s always been his dream to play collegiate football. On Wednesday, he took a big step toward making that dream a reality with Shorter.
“That’s two dreams that have come true in a couple of months,” he said, with the other dream of his playing for a state championship team. “I don’t see how it can get any better. I’m getting two of the best opportunities you can in my senior year.”
The linebacker posted 113 tackles for the Bulldogs last season, including 13 for losses. He recovered a fumble in overtime of the Class 3A state championship game against Cordova, which preserved a 35-28 victory.
Luke Smith said he’s ready for the challenges Shorter has to offer.
“You really never know how good you’ll be until you experience your level of play with all the other recruits,” he said. “The only thing I can do now is work hard and get better.”
While Luke Smith looks to contribute early in his career at Shorter, the same can be said of Holloway and Spear.
Holloway, a defensive back, posted 45 tackles for the Bulldogs last season. Spear, a defensive lineman, had 87 tackles.
Spear said Stillman plans to move him to outside linebacker, a position he’s excited about playing.
“We’re just going to do what we can do to build another program,” he said. “It’s a young team, so hopefully we’ll get to play.
“I always had a feeling I could do something with my life. I’m going to go to college and hopefully live out all my dreams.”
Holloway said he’s glad Spear will get to share their collegiate experiences together.
“It feels good to get to go there with somebody I know and have experienced a lot with,” Holloway said. “I really think we’re going to get a chance to prove we can play. I know I’ve never gotten to experience college football, but I think everything will work out.”
One proud coach hopes everything will work out for them too – not just in football, but in life.
“It’s always gratifying as a coach to have moments like this,” Steve Smith said. “There’s a lot of people who coach high school football who think their job is simply getting kids ready to play ball games. When their four years are over, they pat them on the back, tell them ‘Thank you’ and that’s about all there is to it. I never bought into that theory.
“I’ve always felt like when you coach a kid, it’s almost a life-long commitment. You’re hoping the things you’ve tried to instill in them with football, along with the help of the other assistant coaches, that they don’t give up, they try to play within the team concept, and do their part – all those things we know as adults that are going to make them productive citizens down the road.”