There are many terms a head coach can use to describe the leader of a football team.
He can be the "go-to-guy," a "playmaker," or a "field general" to name a few.
When it comes to Panther Valley's Rich Smith, head coach Lon Hazlet may have a name for the Panthers' star player that tops them all. Hazlet referred to Smith as the "ambassador" of the Panthers' program.
"Richie is a fantastic football player," said Hazlet. "Take what he is as a football player and times that by two and that's the kind-of of person Rich is. The culture of our team has changed this season and it's a direct effect of the leadership that Richie has displayed. He's one of the top ranked students in his class and when we have our youth camp you can tell the kids in the community look up to him. He's just a great kid."
Smith has impressed Coach Hazlet and his peers with his actions off the field. However, it was Smith's actions on the field against Mahanoy Area last Friday night that have earned him this week's TIMES NEWS Player of the Week Award.
Smith ran wild against the Bears' defense, rushing 18 times for 215 yards and scoring three touchdowns. Smith, who was primarily used in short yardage situations last season, went to work in the off-season and it showed. Smith scored on runs of 50, 25 and 59 yards against the Bears and showed that he has added some speed to his game. The senior running back also added about 15 pounds to his frame. Furthermore, at a lifting meet earlier this year, he tallied over 1,500 pounds in the bench press, dead lift and squat.
"My teammates and I have been in the weightroom since early December working hard," said Smith. "It's not only me that put the time in this off-season. A lot of our guys have gotten stronger and faster and it paid off last week. After last season we had a core group of guys sit down and talk about how we wanted to become a better football. Anybody that's involved with our program can you tell you that we are definitely a more serious and a more no-nonsense team this year. That makes us a better football team."
Smith not only made his mark on offense, but he also showed his prowess at linebacker by coming up with 16 tackles. Smith, however, was quick to point out that the reason he was so successful on both sides of the ball Friday night was due to the great play of his teammates.
"On defense our success starts with our front seven," said Smith. "The reason I was able to make so many plays was because our other linebackers were dong their job. The guys were right in front of me and all I had to do was make the play.
"On offense, if it wasn't for our linemen then I wouldn't have had the game that I had. The linemen were another group that really made it a priority to get in the weightroom this year. They were pushing guys around up front and I had good lanes to run through."
Smith was the first Panther Valley running back to rush for over 215 yards in a game since John Koehler rushed for 257 yards against the Bears in a contest back in 2002.
Smith knows the Panther Valley win was a good starting point for success, but that's just what it is - a starting point.
"We wanted to come out and play hard and get a win to start our season," said Smith. "The last couple of years we got a win, but it wasn't until later in the season. We wanted to get a win right away so we knew we were making strides as a football team. Now that we have done that we know it's time to continue to focus on getting better and going out there and playing hard, physical, smashmouth football."