By Ray Hamill — For a program that has struggled in terms of wins and losses in recent years, the McKinleyville Panthers have a knack for producing a lot of college ready players.
They may be small in numbers most years, but few teams play with a bigger heart than the Panthers, and it shows in how they prepare their players for the next level.
Just ask former Panther Jared Smith, who plays at Southern Oregon University.
“It definitely did help prepare me,” said Smith, a 2017 Mack graduate. “Our team was so small, but I developed a lot of grit there. A lot of mental toughness.”
Smith, who played alongside future Division-I players Bryce Petersen and Kyle Spalding during his time as a Panther, has enjoyed a solid if not spectacular playing career at Southern Oregon, but it’s an experience he continues to relish.
After red shirting as a freshman on a very good SOU team that reached the NAIA national semifinals in 2017, Smith has seen his role on the team gradually grow in the two seasons since then.
He starts on special teams, while providing depth at outside linebacker, and more importantly is loving life as a football player.
“Honestly, all I want is to win every week,” he said. “Obviously it would be nice to get a lot of playing time, but that stuff doesn’t matter as much to me. The success of the team is the most important thing.”
A dream come true
Playing college football, he says, “has been a dream of mine ever since I was a child,” and that comes as no surprise considering Smith’s football pedigree.
His father, Rob, not only played in the Rose Bowl with the University of Washington, but also is a legendary head coach at the Division-II level after enjoying tremendous success for more than a quarter of a century at Western Washington and Humboldt State.
And the younger Smith sees himself potentially following in his father’s footsteps, although he admits he’s not sure where life may take him yet.
“I’m looking at getting into the coaching field. I think I want to try it,” he said. “I’ll probably try out high school and see if it’s something for me.”
The Health and Physical Education major says he may also become a firefighter.
He remains close with his father, who moved back to Washington after his time at Humboldt State, and has had a big influence on his son’s career.
“He tries to be my dad first, but sometimes the coach in him steps in there,” Smith said with a chuckle. “He’s been very supportive. My whole family is very supportive.”
Smith admits college football is a long way removed from the high school game, but his understanding of the game continues to develop each year.
He says he choose Southern Oregon partially to get away from home.
“My dad recommended I look at SOU. He knew I didn’t want to go to Humboldt State,” he said. “I wanted to get out of the house.”
After making an official visit to the SOU campus during his senior year at McKinleyville, Smith knew immediately he wanted to play there.
“I committed two days later,” he said.
Two other recent former Panthers, Dakota Bill and James Solomon, each also are playing at four year schools.