KIE-ING a win: Backup Smith leads T.R. Miller to 2-0 start
Standing 60 yards from the goal line and the first points of the new season for T.R. Miller, a nervous Kieon Smith — who is the starting quarterback for the Tigers in the absence of Kevin Davis, who was traveling with the 18-under national baseball team — takes his place on the field under center and stares down the Escambia County Blue Devil defense.
A 5-yard run on first down was followed by a 19-yard run to get a Tiger first down.
Only 36 more yards needed for a Tiger touchdown.
Then came a 2-yard run to put the Tigers at the Escambia County 34-yard line.
On the next play, Smith took the snap from center and rolled to his right. Running back Kameron Coleman threw his arm in the air to signal he was open but Smith ignored Coleman’s call for the ball.
Instead he found wide receiver Kellyn Winn streaking down the field near the end zone ahead of a Blue Devil defender.
Four plays and 60 yards later and almost exactly two minutes off the clock … touchdown T.R. Miller and the crowd roared as the Tigers score their first six points of the game en route to a 41-14 win to start the season 1-0.
While the crowd roared in excitement, Smith was no longer nervous.
“I was kind of nervous when we played Flomaton, but I was very nervous in the game against Atmore,” Smith said. “But coach (Jamie) Riggs and coach (Juan) Johnson called some very good plays to get me relaxed and when I threw that touchdown pass to Kellyn Winn all of the nervousness went away and I just played from there on.”
Smith’s quick decision-making in finding an open receiver is one thing that Tiger head coach Jamie Riggs has noticed in Smith’s brief appearance this season as the Tigers’ signal caller.
“He is getting better every week,” Riggs said. “A lot about playing quarterback is about making decisions. You have to get the ball to people. His decision making is getting better with all of that. I am very pleased with what he has done and I do appreciate is effort and his attitude about doing it.”
Riggs said Smith has done a good job for the Tigers early this season.
“It was kind of a difficult situation for him because he plays so many positions for us,” Riggs said. “He is obviously our No. 1 kick returner. He also worked a good bit this summer at wide receiver. He plays defensive back and has done a really good job for us there. He also plays special teams for us in addition to returning, he can do some other things. And then to be able to step in and do quarterback and do it as efficiently as he has done, that not only says a lot about his ability but also his toughness he has to come in and be able to do that.”
Smith, 16, began playing football when he was only 5 years old.
“I started out at fullback since I was so chubby, but as time moved alone I got skinnier and they moved me to quarterback,” he said. “Now, being the starting quarterback at T.R. Miller is great. Everyone knows who you are, and it’s a lot of pressure on you especially when you know that you are the leader of the team and that your composure in a game decides how well things are going to go. I really respect Kevin because he handles the pressure and all the attention so well.”
Smith said he began stepping up his game even before stepping into Davis’ shoes.
“The loss to Handley was devastating, and me and my teammates don’t ever want to feel like that again,” he said of the Tigers’ 21-19 second round loss to the eventual state champions last year. “From that day on, I decided that I was going to do everything I could do on the field and at practice to become a better player.”
This year, Smith was 4-for-5 passing with 81 yards and one touchdown of 34 yards against Atmore in week one. Smith also had a punt return of 70 yards for a touchdown. Smith went 1-for-3 with an 18-yard touchdown and had one interception against Flomaton. On defense he intercepted a Hurricane pass at the goal line and had a long return.
This past Friday night, Smith was 2-for-3 passing with 14 yards.
While he is getting noted for his quarterback play this year, Smith said as for defense, people really did not know that he actually started at free safety last year.
“Me and Conner Denton had shared time at the start of the season, then I eventually became the starter,” he said. “I had around 50 tackles and four interceptions, which isn’t really that bad for your first year starting. The interception against Flomaton, I kind of knew was going to happen because we knew when they got close to the goal line they liked to throw fade routes and stuff like that. So when the receiver ran a fade route, I wasn’t that surprised. Coach Riggs and all of the other coaches really do a nice job at preparing us for teams that we are going to play against.”
Smith said taking over the role as starting quarterback this fall has made him more of a leader.
“I do think I have matured a lot because having to become a leader so sudden you don’t have time to second guess yourself or you will make bad decisions,” he said. “So now during the games I talk a lot more to my teammates trying to encourage them way more than I did last year.”
So who does Smith model his quarterback play after?
“I’m a scrambling quarterback all the way, especially since I don’t have a million dollar arm like Kevin,” he said. “Me being able to run can able me to move around more and give me a little more time for my receivers to get open. I really like (former Baylor quarterback and Heisman winner last year) Robert Griffin III and I try to model my play after him. Me being able to start these few games have helped me a lot. When Kevin leaves I now know what to expect with being the starting quarterback for such a great school with such a great tradition. I’ll have to step and up and talk more because I really don’t talk in the huddle as much as I need to. I’ll have to work on that more. But hopefully I’ll be okay since I know what to expect.”
With Davis set to come back in the coming weeks, Smith said he will move to his regular position on offense and Davis will take back over the helm of starting quarterback.
“When Kevin comes back I will most likely move to wingback,” he said. “Me and Jamal Spears split time there last year. I will also play strong safety, which I have been playing since last year. Kevin will definitely be the starter. When he comes back he will make the team even better and we will be able to throw the ball more than we do now. We are really depending on Dominique Jackson, Kameron Coleman and Mac Coleman to make plays at running back, and maybe I’ll sneak in a couple of passes here and there. I have really enjoyed being quarterback since Kevin has been dealing with his baseball stuff, but I’ll be happy when he comes back.”
While his play at starting quarterback this year for the Tigers is only scheduled to last three weeks counting the preseason game, Riggs said this experience helps Smith to be able to take over the starting job next year fulltime.
“I think it will help him for next year once it is in his hands as starter,” Riggs said. “If he was going to be the quarterback all the time, we would probably expand and do some things with the quarterback a little bit. We will continue to do some of the same things we have done with him. Probably, he will be the quarterback next year and we will do some different things offensively because he obviously has the ability to run the ball. I would think Kevin would come back and play quarterback and we will move Kieon to wide out. At some point down the line, we will keep Kieon at quarterback. We may use him a little bit once and awhile. It is certainly an option that we have. With him playing quarterback as much as he has to start the year, it will only make that better.”
Davis is set to be back for T.R. Miller’s Sept. 14 home game this Friday against Excel.