When Panther Valley head coach Lon Hazlet took his team on a trip to West Point, N.Y., a representative from the football team explained the rigorous schedule of an Army football player. The coach explained that Army was the only place in the country where you have to wake up at 4:30 in the morning to attend practice. After he said that, the coach then asked, "Now who wants to come to Army?"

Panther Valley running back Richie Smith was the lone person to raise his hand on that day and proclaim that he wanted to go to Army.

Yesterday afternoon, Smith carried through on that gesture, officially announcing that he will be attending West Point Military Academy to play football for the Black Knights.

"Over the past couple of months I have been entertaining visits from colleges coming into school and offering me the opportunity to play there," said Smith. "Officially, I'd like to say that I have chosen to go to the West Point Academy and play football."

Smith's dream of playing at a service academy started when he was a youngster, while he was in a elementary school after the horrific events on September 11, 2001.

"It all started when I was in second grade during 9/11," said Smith. "I remember sitting in a desk in Hazleton at my elementary school at the time and just thinking that I wanted to be able to change this. I didn't want something like that to ever happen again and I felt very helpless. Over the years I took that idea with me and it brought me to where I am today."

When Coach Hazlet explained the story of Smith raising his hand in the meeting room he then went on to say how Smith was adamant on the ride home that he wanted to attend West Point.

"We got on the bus to come home and Richie said his goal was to play at Army," said Hazlet. "I told him that was a very lofty goal, but if we shoot for that and even if we don't end up there we're probably going to end up somewhere pretty good. I always tell my guys to keep their goals in mind and obviously Richie has done that."

Smith took his aspirations to play Division 1 football and combined that with an intense work ethic to become one of the best running backs in the TIMES NEWS area last season.

Smith was a leader on both sides of the ball, garnering most of his accolades on the offense. He was a first team TIMES NEWS selection at running back, rushing for 1,002 yards and 13 touchdowns. Smith was closing in on the 1,000 yard plateau at the midseason mark before an ankle injury he suffered against Marian forced him to sit out a few games. Still, Smith showed a ton of ability in the games where he was healthy and a highlight tape that was put together by Hazlet's son Brock attracted a lot of attention from college coaches.

"When the season was over we started the recruiting process and my son Brock put together a highlight tape for Richie," said Hazlet. "Needless to say, when we sent out the film we weren't prepared for the response we got. Over the course of the next two weeks we had about 25 schools come and visit Richie at school. It just goes to show how special of an individual Richie is, to receive that much attention in such a little timespan."

After Smith announced his decision to attend West Point he thanked those that helped him along the way. Smith also stressed the importance of growing up in such a tight knit community and that it shaped him into the person he is today.

"In making this decision I'd like to thank many people," said Smith. "I'd like to thank the entire Panther Valley community. This area offers a lot and without the support of the community I probably wouldn't have even had a chance at Army. I'd like to thank all my friends, football players, and coaches.

"You guys are like my family. I'd also like to thank my JROTC Instructor SFC Joseph Jordan and lastly I'd like to thank my family, especially my mom and dad. You have been there supporting me through my entire life and I appreciate all you have done for me."

Lon Hazlet might have had the line of the day. It defines what type of kid Richie Smith really is and the respect he has from his peers.

When talking to an Army coach about the possibility of Smith attending the prestigious institution, Hazlet said "Well coach, I want you to understand something. You aren't recruiting Richie Smith, he's recruiting you."