Inspirational Leader Fuels Mustangs’ Title Quest
By Thomas Carrigan // November 16, 2012
QB Nick Smith Ignites Merritt Island
BREVARD COUNTY • MERRITT ISLAND, FLORIDA – Take one look at Merritt Island Mustangs junior quarterback Nick Smith and you can see why all of his teammates look up to him.
For starters, most of his teammates have to literally look up to him as he’s one of the tallest players on the team at 6-foot-5 and 215 lbs.
With wavy blonde hair and All-American looks, it would be easy to mistake the Merritt Island native for a surfer rather than a football player.
But watch him throw a football and you can see why the Mustangs are rolling on all cylinders going into the playoffs.
Smith has been a big catalyst for the (9-1) Mustangs as they head into tonight’s home regional quarterfinal matchup versus (5-5) Jensen Beach.
Smith is coming off a 37-13 win versus Melbourne last week in which he passed for two touchdowns and rushed for another.
Since a Sept. 28 loss to Cocoa, the Mustangs ride a five-game winning streak going into tonight are currently ranked No. 7 in the Class 5A football poll.
According to offensive coach Jimmy Black, it’s been evident that Smith has matured since the start of the season.
“Nick has done a great job with his composure this season. A couple games back, he stood in the pocket and threw a 15-yard dig that was beautiful. He’s capable of throwing college footballs. His sense of decision-making has been very good. He’s quick to react and he doesn’t throw interceptions too often.” Merritt Island offensive coach Jimmy Black
“Nick is a passionate player,” Black said. “Nick has done a great job with his composure this season. A couple games back, he stood in the pocket and threw a 15-yard dig that was beautiful. He’s capable of throwing college footballs. His sense of decision-making has been very good. He’s quick to react and he doesn’t throw interceptions too often.”
With a rocket arm and mobility in the pocket, Smith has all the tools to run the Mustangs offense. The primary offense is the triple option, in which Smith has multiple options on every snap. He can hand off or pitch the ball to his running backs, tuck the ball and run it himself or pass it downfield.
With Smith in his first full-time season as starting quarterback though, the Mustangs have spread the ball a lot more this season.
Smith tied for second in the county with 13 touchdown passes to go with 920 yards passing. His three interceptions ranked him among the lowest totals in Brevard County this season.
“This year we’ve liked to go through the air a little bit more,” Smith said. “We’ve based (our offense) on a stronger run game and hopefully it opens up the pass. We’ve shown this year that we’ve been able to do that.”
Rising through the historically strong Pop Warner and youth Merritt Island football leagues, he has played with a majority of his teammates for well over a decade.
“It’s been a blast playing with these guys,” Smith said. “It’s made growing up so much more fun. Going out there and playing Friday night under the lights, it’s been so enjoyable.”
While Smith has been having fun this season, another person enjoying the ride for the Mustangs is head coach Jeff McLean.
He’s been pleased with his young quarterback’s play.
“The mark of a good quarterback is ‘can you move the team down the field’,” McLean said. “Look at A.J McCarron out of Alabama. He just runs the team and moves them from Point A to Point B and (Smith) has done a good job with that. He understands the game and what we’re trying to do.”
Even though he has become one of the best quarterbacks in the county this season, Smith is quick to deflect the attention and praise his teammates on a successful regular season.
“My teammates have been tremendous,” Smith said. “It’s tremendous having a good wide receiver corp and a good defense to back me up and give me confidence when I’m down. They’ve always been there for me.”
Smith was quick to credit the coaching staff as well.
“The coaches have had my back 100 percent,” Smith said. “They believe in me 100 percent and it’s nice that they have my confidence and I have theirs. I trust in them. We have that kind of relationship that allows us to build, grow and get better each week.”
With his first career playoff start under center coming tonight, all eyes will be on Smith as he leads the Mustangs on its quest for the school’s fourth football state championship. The game plan, however, hasn’t deviated much from the regular season.
“The coaches have told us to stay focused on fundamentals this week,” Smith said. “They want us to continue what we’ve been doing all season and to go out there, play and have fun. They don’t want us to worry about all of the pressure and the drama that comes with the game.”
“The coaches have told us to not worry about next week’s game or who’s in our bracket. Just focus on this week’s game. Our main goal is to be in the Citrus Bowl in four weeks. We just have to take it one step at a time.”
With Smith leading the way, those steps just got a whole lot easier.
Class 5A Regional Semifinal Jensen Beach at Merritt Island.
Game time is at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Merritt Island High School.
Admission is $8 and $9 for reserved seating.
Merritt Island is in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season. Cocah Jeff McLean has a career 3-4 record in the playoffs. The Mustangs are 42-26 all-time in the playoffs and is making its 30th career appearance since 1967. Its three state titles are sixth all-time in Florida high school football history.