Lake Highlands senior linebacker Casey Smith frequently comes out of film sessions with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.
The sessions usually show him weaknesses in the offensive scheme of the Wildcats’ upcoming opponent.
“If we are playing a team where the lineman can’t pick up a blitz, we will go all night,” Smith says. “I get the chance to have a lot of fun.”
And Smith has been having fun this season. He has been Lake Highlands’ leading tackler for most of the season in both solo and assists. Lake Highlands also uses a point system to measure the players’ efficiency, and Smith leads the team in points. His big lead in the points system is because of tackles for a loss and caused fumbles, both of which he has twice as many as anybody on the team.
Against Richardson, Smith made 23 tackles, added two caused fumbles and two running back sacks. He was involved in half of Richardson’s offensive plays.
Lake Highlands linebacker coach Jerry Gayden says Smith is a big-play linebacker in the tradition of New York Giants great Lawrence Taylor.
“He is one of those guys,” Gayden says. “He got more sacks than anyone else, but that is by design.”
“We stunt him and send him, and then he does things himself.”
Smith first made an impact at Lake Highlands as a catcher on the Wildcats baseball team. Smith started part-time last season as linebacker, but missed half of the season with a knee injury.
Gayden says Smith brought a great deal of sports savvy with him from baseball.
“From playing catcher he’s used to taking charge, being where the action is,” Gayden says. “He’s a great hitter in baseball, and he’s got great hand and eye coordination, and that just makes it that much easier for him when he plays football.”
Smith says that baseball taught him to be aggressive, a lesson he took with him to the football field.
“I don’t have the size, but I just like to win, get things done,” says Smith, who is 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 175 pounds. “In football I am usually smaller than the guys going against me so I just have to be aggressive to get there, to get the job done.”
Gayden says that Smith makes up for his size with hard work.
“He’s a real competitor, strides to do the best he can even in practice,” Gayden says. “He’s got great quickness, great desire and hustle, and that makes up for a lot. He will do whatever it takes. He will claw at you, bite you, knock you down with his legs. Whatever it takes to make a tackle, he will do it.”
Smith says he likes the camaraderie and the contact of football.
“Football is like a big family,” he says. “Baseball you are together for a couple of hours each day, but during football season it is an all-day thing. You are up at 6:45 a.m. in the morning often for meetings, all with the same group of guys. We are just a big family.”
“I also like hitting people. You get only a few chances to do that in baseball; it is very rare. Whenever I stop playing football, that is what I will miss – the contact.”
Smith says the Wildcats rarely get an easy game because their district is filled with tough opponents. But because Lake Highlands has a rich tradition of playoff success, Smith believes the tough schedule works to the Wildcats’ advantage.
“I think our district is as tough as any district in the state,” he says. “There are no softies, but I think that helps us out. When you get to the playoffs, we’ve already been through a lot of tough games, where other teams might have had one big district game and that is it.”
But Smith says he’s not focused on the playoffs. He takes it one play at a time.
“My goal for the season is simple – if a guy comes near me, I’m going to tackle him,” he says.