Dallastown running back Nyzair Smith and head coach Kevin Myers talk about the junior's breakout season in 2017.
Nyzair Smith was fine with entering this football season as a relative unknown around the York-Adams League.
To be honest, it was to be expected, especially playing for a Dallastown team that is in the same division as York High, which boasted, arguably, the league's best running back in Khalid Dorsey. Dorsey had a 1,000-yard season as a junior in 2016 and generated enough college interest to net him a trio of scholarship offers, including two from Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) programs.
So, it was natural that a first-year starting running back would garner little attention.
After seven weeks of the 2017 season, however, Smith has emerged as a back who can not not be ignored.
"I'm not cocky, but, I knew I had to play a role in the offense," Smith said. "So, I had to come in with a chip on my shoulder."
Breaking into the team: For a kid who stands at just 5-feet, 7-inches and 165 pounds, that chip on Smith's shoulder must've been pretty big.
As a sophomore in 2016, the only running back he played was at the junior varsity level. On the varsity team, he played some at cornerback, but rarely, if ever, on the offensive side of the ball.
Coming into the season, Smith was just one of a slew of talented players capable of running the ball for the Wildcats. It was Smith, however, who possessed the most pure talent as a ball carrier, capable of making big plays and handling a heavy workload.
"We knew we had a solid running back coming back this year, even though he didn't play a lot of varsity running back," head coach Kevin Myers said. "(I'm) a little bit surprised at the success he is having, but we knew he was going to be good."
Putting up numbers: The success that Smith is having translates into 1,129 rushing yards in just seven games, good for 161.3 yards per game. He's averaging 11.4 yards per carry and accounts for more than half of Dallastown's league-leading 312.0 rushing yards per game.
Like any smart running back, Smith was quick to credit his offensive line. Myers said that it's that experience on the offensive line that allows Smith to break off big gains and get to the second and third levels of the defense before he's even touched.
Smith, however, is also very smart with his approach to the position, limiting the number of direct hits he takes because of his vision and agility.
"He's got great vision and a great sense of awareness of what's around him," Myers said. "We're watching film sometimes and wonder how even knows a guy is there and just makes a cut. ... He touches the ball 20-30 times a game and you wouldn't know it. He comes off and says, 'Yeah, I was a little sore Saturday,' because he's just able to get glancing blows and not take a lot of big shots."
Drawing comparisons: Before the year began, Smith wasn't sure what his first year as a feature back would hold. Certainly not 1,000 yards.
Since breaking out, opposing defenses have keyed in on trying to stop Smith, or, at the very least, slow him down. Neither has worked too well.
Even with all the success he's accumulated, however, he's maintaining his humility and relative innocence. He doesn't like to get caught up in the hype that's surrounding him and the comparisons he's drawing to Dorsey.
There's also no escaping those comparisons, however, not with Smith firmly on Dorsey's heels in the race for the league rushing title. After it looked like the Bearcats' Division I prospect was going to literally run away with the honor, Smith has come on strong, trailing Dorsey by just 27 yards.
"I didn't get caught up in all that hype with him," Smith said about being mentioned alongside Dorsey. "He's a good player and everything, but I don't involve myself around that type of stuff. I just do me and stay in my own lane, basically."
Promising future: Smith hopes there's a future for him in the sport at the college level. That shouldn't be a problem if he continues to put up numbers like he has so far this season.
Still, he hasn't spoken to any colleges yet, but anticipates them coming after his breakout year.
Myers remembers back in 2014 when Addison Quinones rushed for more than 1,200 yards in a season and earned himself Y-A League Division I Player of the Year honors. Smith will surely eclipse that total.
Chris Moore, back in 1997, led the league in rushing with 1,599 yards, which Myers believes is the program record. A strong finish to this year, along with maybe one district game, and breaking that mark, is a real possibility for Smith. At the moment, Dallastown sits in ninth in the latest District 3 6-A power ratings, with the top-eight teams qualifying.
There's no denying what Smith is. Even as little as a month ago, he was barely a blip on the radar of top running backs around the league.
Now, he's among the area's best, with a senior year left to add to his growing list of accomplishments.
Myers, however, doesn't want to look that far. At least not in great detail.
"That remains to be seen, and I hate to forecast that far because it always comes back to bite me in the rear end," he said. "But, I think he can have a special senior year."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org