Quarterback passes through adversityPublished 11:01am Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Last Friday could be considered a career night for Otter Tail Central quarterback Andrew Smith. As his team looked to go 2-1 against New York Mills, the senior gained nearly 200 total yards of offense, running for 128 yards on 15 carries and one score. He also threw a 47 yard touchdown pass in the first quarter of the game.
But even more impressive is the weight he carried on his shoulders that night.
Just two nights earlier, the Henning teen received news that his parents, Grant and Laura Smith, had been in a head on collision driving home from church. They would spend the rest of the week recovering from injuries in St. Cloud.
“It’s just a huge shock,” Smith said. “That’s the last thing you expect. I was just sitting at home after a good day of practice doing some homework and getting some supper.”
For the next week, friends and neighbors in the community offered support to Smith and his family as his parents received care. OTC head coach Don Seipkes, who coached Smith’s father and two older brothers, offered his understanding that, in a time of tragedy, family is more important than football.
“I just called up Andrew on Thursday and told him, you know, you don’t have to be at the game and you don’t have to be at practice,” Seipkes said.
But as the team made their final preparations for the game on Thursday, Smith made his way out to the practice field.
“He said he had talked to his mom and dad and they said he was supposed to go on,” Seipkes added. “That’s the type of people they are. Super people. I can’t say enough good things about (the family).”
In a week suddenly turned tragic, football offered solid footing when life set him back.
“Just being with your teammates, these guys, I would trust them with just about anything in my life,” Smith said. “Just to feel back. It’s football practice and it’s normal. It’s was nice to be back with them.”
Adversity isn’t new to this Bulldog team. Already supporting running back Jake Trosdahl as he deals with a foot injury that has threatened his season, helping Smith through the difficult time was another example of what teammates in a tight-knit community do for each other.
“Being at a small school like this, you know everyone pretty well,” said senior Tyler Ukkelberg. “But when you strap up pads and start playing football, it’s different. The friendships are tightened, being a teammate increases friendships and brings you together.”
While Smith is normally upbeat, his teammates understood that he might not be the same after the accident. But his presence there, keeping a positive attitude the whole way through, was something they felt they needed to return.
“You don’t let anyone on the team get down because of it,” said senior Dan Marso. “He’s putting a smile on his face for us, so we should work hard for him.”
Seipkes had some concern over the added pressure on Smith heading into Friday’s matchup against the Eagles. But the way he played offensively and the way his teammates would respond, blanking New York Mills 27-0, showed the team’s character.
“I maybe had a little bit (of nervousness), but just knowing the type of kid Andrew is and his family, I thought once the game started he would do the best he possibly could,” Seipkes said. “When the game starts your mind is in that mindset and his was. He played an excellent offensive games for us.”
On Friday night, Smith’s goal was simple. But football helped put it into perspective.
“Life by the inch is a cinch. I guess I’ve been taking it by the inch this week, practice day by day, each class I had this week. The game was maybe a little bit bigger of an inch,” Smith said with a smile. “I love playing football, but I really wanted to see my parents. I hadn’t seen them since Wednesday. I wanted to come out with the win, I didn’t care how we did it, I just wanted to get the win and move on to see my parents.”
As the Bulldogs prepare for Friday’s game against Browerville, the conference champions for the past two years, life has started to feel normal again for Smith and his family. There is, however, a long road towards recovery, though his father was cleared to leave the hospital on Saturday and his mother may follow sometime later this week.
It’s fitting, then, that the Bulldogs’ biggest game of the year this Friday will also be Parents Night.
While Smith might not have both his parents, who rarely miss games, there for the game, the significance won’t be lost.
“It’s a nice reminder,” Smith said. “It definitely gives you a new perspective on life. What seems important now, like all these games, it’s not that important in the grand scheme of things. It really makes you remember to say I love you more and appreciate having family members around, having parents who love you.”