Gridiron life

Published 8:49 am Monday, July 11, 2011

ECHS defensive line coach Karl Smith stands next to the Blue Devils two state championship trophies.|File Photo

Demopolis, Ala. is a football town. The largest city located in Marengo County with a population of just more than 7,400 people lives and breathes football. That’s how it is today and that’s how it was when Karl Smith was growing up there as a child.

Smith, the defensive line coach and assistant track coach at Escambia County High School spent his young life in Demopolis growing up with the dream to play football for the Demopolis Tigers and beyond that into college and professional ranks.

Football is the thing that Smith noticed made Demopolis thrive, he said.

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“It’s a city all about sports, mainly football,” Smith said. “Growing up, it was all about the gridiron. After I finished my homework, I would be outside playing sports whether it be football or something else. It was play sports or hang around and get in trouble. I chose sports.”

Smith attended Demopolis High School where he played defensive and offensive tackle for the Tigers led by then head coach Cody Keene.

When football was out of season, Smith participated on the track and field team throwing the shotput and discus, but the focus was always the same, always football.

Playing at Demopolis was a learning experience, Smith said. One that taught him hard work.

“Demopolis High School lived and breathed football,” he said. “Playing for coach Keene was a blast, but it took hard work. He kept our noses on the grindstone, and we were sold on his philosophy, so it didn’t matter how hard he made us work. We did what he wanted us to do because we wanted to get the job done.”

The love for football that Smith put into at Demopolis was something he always had even as a young child.

His dream was to play professional football and to make his mom proud of his accomplishment, he said.

“I wanted to play in the National Football League,” he said. “That’s what I had wanted to do since I was in third grade. I told my mom that I wanted to go pro and make her proud. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out for me, but God had a different plan in mind for me.”

After becoming the most valuable defensive lineman at Demopolis, Smith kept his goal of continuing his football career when he enrolled at the University of Alabama.

His choice of college came easy because it was a large university and one that was close to family on all fronts, he said.

“I wanted to go to Alabama because it was close to home,” Smith said. “ I have family in Tuscaloosa, so if I wanted to get out, I could call up my cousins and go see them. It was nice to be close to family.”

Once at the Capstone, Smith decided to try to walk on to the Crimson Tide football team. His work proved to be successful as he made the roster, but things would get tough after earning a spot.

The demand of a college program would make Smith work, but as he had for Keene, he would gladly accept the challenge, he said.

“It was tough to walk on at Alabama,” he said. “Making that transition took work because that atmosphere and tempo were much different. I did something though that most teenagers dream about. To walk on at a program like that made me feel like I was one of the few that made it.”

After making the roster, Smith would continue to work for his spot in the starting line up.

His career would come to an abrupt end though due to an injury, he said.

“It was a short time for me on the team,” he said. “I had high hopes of making it as a starter, but halfway in to the season, I messed up my knee. I had messed up my other knee in high school, so I decided to leave football and focus on my academics.”

After college, Smith knew exactly the route he wanted his life to take.

He remembered an offer that Keene made to all of his players and decided to get back into football, but as a coach.

Becoming a coach was something that he knew he could do by learning from Keene, he said.

“I learned so much from coach Keene,” he said. “Learning to let players know you are there for them is important. I also learned that you have to finish what you start because if you quit then you are developing a bad habit that will hurt you in life. I want to develop that bond with players. It really helps.”

Now that he is a coach at ECHS, Smith is focusing on the Blue Devils, but if he had not been a coach, he knows what he what he wanted to do.

If he had not made it to the sidelines, he might be on TV talking about radars, he said.

“Prior to being in football, I wanted to be a meteorologist,” Smith said. “I was always fascinated by weather patterns and all of the fancy equipment that they use.”