By BOB YORK
The game ball should be donated to the Smithsonian.
Saturday’s prep school clash between Deerfield Academy and The Hotchkiss School will be nothing but a win-win situation for legendary Big Green football coach Jim Smith. His son, Danny, is the Hotchkiss coach, while his grandson, Billy, will be starting at wide receiver and defensive back for Deerfield.
“Can’t wait,” said the former Deerfield mentor of Saturday’s encounter which will lure 32 Smiths to Lakeville, Conn., — one coach, one player and 30 spectators – and the gridiron guru who guided the Big Green to a 175-88-12 record over a 36-year career, has his game plan drawn up already.
“I’m planning on wearing my Deerfield baseball cap and my dark green jacket to the game and stand on the Deerfield sidelines during the first half,” explained Smith. “Then, at halftime, I’m going to walk over to Danny’s house, change into my Hotchkiss cap and jacket and spend the second half on the Hotchkiss sidelines.”
The veteran coach knows his way around football fields and he knows his way around the Bearcats home particularly well.
“Danny’s house is right near the football field,” said Smith. “All you have to do is walk through the end zone, down a hill, around some bushes and you’re in his back yard. In fact, if someone puts a good boot into a field goal try, it just might break one of his windows.”
Unfortunately for Danny, he won’t have time to be worrying whether his father remembered to shut off the lights and lock the door before returning to the field. He’ll be dealing with much bigger problems, like how to stop his 5-8, 165-pound nephew, who is taking a postgraduate year at Deerfield and is looking more and more like a chip off the old blocks every weekend.
The former three-sport standout – football, basketball and baseball – at Westfield High School who “was just the second three-sport captain at the school in the last 30 years,” said his proud father, Mike, who graduated from Deerfield in 1980, and was a three-sport athlete for the Big Green as well – and was elected captain of all three sports his senior year. Danny, a 1985 graduate of Deerfield, was a three-sport captain as well, as were his other uncles: KC (82), Jimmy (86) and Patrick (91) – and all five, went on to enjoy outstanding careers on the collegiate level.
The younger Smith, who earned All-Western Mass honors in both football and baseball as a senior at Westfield where he rambled for 770 yards last fall as an option quarterback, has proven in just two games that he’s capable of beating you in a number of ways. Last week against Taft, he scored on a 42-yard reception and a 55-yard interception. And during a season-opening victory over Northfield Mount Hermon School, he carried the ball just twice, but used those jaunts to gain 92 yards. Over on defense, he forced one fumble and collected four tackles.
“I’m hoping things go well for us Saturday,” said Billy. “Most of the family comes over to our house for Thanksgiving dinner, and it would sure be nice to have the family bragging rites for that gathering.”
“Like the entire family, I’m really proud of Billy”, said. Danny, and although he acknowledged that “most of the family will probably be hanging out on the Deerfield sidelines, I’m really looking forward to Saturday’s game and I’m hoping Billy plays well”.
“It would appear that he has really taken to the Deerfield experience,” added his uncle. “I think that they’ve already realized that he’s a very versatile athlete. Although he played quarterback in high school, I think he’s a dynamic wide receiver … like a Wes Welker. He’s got speed, he’s got quickness and he’s got a great pair of hands.”
Although prep schools can’t scout opponents, the Bearcats coach has firsthand knowledge of what his nephew brings to the table – and not just the Thanksgiving Day table.
“I’ve been watching him play in the Westfield-Cathedral football game on Thanksgiving Day for the past four years,” said Danny, “so I know what he’s capable of doing.”
This Deerfield-Hotchkiss football rivalry has been a highly contested one over the years and for Smith, who will be facing his former school for the 13th time over the past 12 seasons, it’s been a closely contested series as well.
“I think at least five of those games have been decided in the last 30 seconds of play,” said Smith. “And that would include the Division I Super Bowl game (2003), which Deerfield won in overtime.”
One guy you know who will be decked out in Green from head to toe and never venturing from the Deerfield sidelines from start to finish will be one proud father.
“I’m really excited … it should be a lot of fun,” said Mike Smith, who said he will be flying a Deerfield pennant in the parking lot, “so all the Smiths will know where to gather before and after the game.” And that will include Mike’s oldest son Ryan, who will be making the six-hour drive from Gettysburg College to be at the game.
“I’m really proud of Billy,” said Mike, “he’s really taken to life at Deerfield both athletically and in the classroom. When it comes to postgraduates, I think a lot of prep schools tend to look at the big kids first and I’m just happy that Deerfield decided to take a chance on him.”
Smith’s roster spot has proven to be positive aspect on the school’s football program in another way … a way that no one in the Deerfield admissions office could have ever imagined happening by simply checking the “yes” box. Billy’s presence has meant free halftime entertainment for the fans – that ‘s when his younger nephews dig out the Nerf football and take over the field.