Smith leaves opposition ailing Oakland Mills runner rebounds

November 03, 1992|By Michael Richman | Michael Richman,Contributing Writer

Last November, when Damion Smith had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, he became uncertain about his future as an Oakland Mills running back. The tenderness of reconstructed ligaments,plus whispers of skepticism, left him wondering.

"My doctor told me I wouldn't be as fast as I was," Smith said. "He said one solid hit and my career would be over. I didn't think I'd be able to do much."

Smith is proving the doubters wrong, and he is surprising himself.

The 5-foot-9, 176-pound junior has played in seven of the Scorpions' nine games, rushing 154 times for 807 yards (5.2-yard avg.), establishing himself as one of Howard County's most dangerous backs. And 83 percent of his yards have come against county rivals: Glenelg (162 yards), Centennial (167), Atholton (213) and Hammond (128).

An asthma attack caused him to miss two games, both losses, most recently a 13-6 defeat Saturday by Howard, which left the Scorpions at 2-7 -- head coach Ken Kloch's worst season in an 18-year career. Smith expects to play in Oakland Mills' regular-season finale Saturday against Mount Hebron.

Kloch believes Smith has the potential to gain 1,500 yards a season. But Kloch makes no other predictions because Smith, who appeared in just one game as a sophomore, has yet to play a full season.

"It would be very interesting to see what he would do if he was completely healthy," Kloch said. "He can be a 1,000-yard rusher, that's obvious, but how good he can be is just guess work. There's nothing to gauge him with right now."

Smith is neither speedy nor big, and Kloch characterizes him as "right in the middle." A stand-up runner, he recognizes openings well and breaks tackles for extra yardage.

Many of the holes Smith breaks through are the result of junior Ricky Leon's blocking. Leon appeared at fullback for the first time against Centennial Oct. 10, when Smith had 46 carries and scored the winning touchdown in the Scorpions' 13-7 double-overtime win. The following week against Atholton, Smith scored twice, once behind the lead blocking of Leon and Derick "Pee Wee" Brooks.

"He cuts off my blocks real good when I kick the defenders out," Leon said. "He's a hard-core runner,straight up."

Smith said: "I played football with [Leon] before I got to high school, so I was used to seeing how he played. It's easy for me to key off his blocks."

Without Smith, the Scorpions had difficulty against Howard. Behind Kloch's makeshift wishbone offense, they rushed 36 times for 101 yards on the blocking of Leon and the running of Brooks and Josh Daft and quarterback Jake Daft. But without Smith, Oakland Mills came away empty-handed after first downs on the Lions 5 and 15 -- the latter with 1:20 remaining and the game on the line.

"It was hard watching the game because if I had played, we would have done better," Smith said. "We had to change the backfield around and we had different people running the ball."

One player churning out yardage for Howard was Guy Smith, another top county back with 897 yards. The Smiths are cousins, and Damion relies on his relative for inspiration and advice.

"I look at him and tell him, 'You better have a good game,' and he says, 'No, you better have a good game,' " Damion said. "He got me used to stiff-arming and switching the ball, something that I had a problem with."

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