In Attica, J. Smith coming in loud and clear

Navy games broadcast in Indiana town so fans can follow favorite son

College Football

December 27, 2004|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

When the Navy football team plays in the Emerald Bowl on Thursday, radio outlets in Baltimore, Washington, Annapolis, Cambridge and Norfolk, Va., will be airing the game over a far-flung area encompassing millions of potential listeners.

But local broadcast interest in the Midshipmen has extended even farther than that the past three seasons - to a tiny FM station in west-central Indiana that may be signing on to the Navy radio network for the final time when the Mids meet New Mexico in San Francisco.

WFWR (91.5 FM) in Attica, Ind., has been a network affiliate since Navy co-captain Josh Smith burst into prominence as an academy sophomore in 2002, closely following the achievements of the native son who had a storied career at Attica High School.

As a high school senior, Smith led the football team to a 14-1 record and the state title game and the basketball team to a state championship. He scored 449 points for the football team that autumn - four short of the national high school record - and his 811 career points are second all time in the state.

Smith has never lined up on offense at Navy, excelling instead as a safety, a position he had never played before coming to Annapolis. When the Emerald Bowl ends, he will be the second player in Navy history to lead the team in tackles for three consecutive years, joining Andy Ponseigo (1981-1983).

"Everybody thinks a lot of him," said Larry Grant, co-owner of WFWR with John Dill. "When Josh comes home, he takes time to talk to kids and he doesn't put on any airs with anybody. Plus, he has a great work ethic.

"I remember when he was in high school, I'd be going to work at 5 a.m. and it would be snowing and blowing and there would be Josh outside running on his way to the school to work out or shoot free throws. He's done what he's done because he's worked very hard at it."

Attica has a population of approximately 3,500. It is about 30 miles from the Illinois border and 25 miles from West Lafayette, home of Purdue University, where Grant works in a power plant. But Purdue thought Smith was too slow to rate a scholarship.

"I pretty much know all those guys at the station," Smith said. "They've done all my sports, covering [Amateur Athletic Union] games and everything. I do interviews with them when I go home."

Home for a break before the bowl game, Smith reunited with the station personnel at a high school holiday tournament.

The relationship between the station and the academy began when Grant phoned Eric Ruden, senior associate athletic director for external relations at Navy.

"They had been listening to the games on the Internet," Ruden said. "From what I understand, people gathered in the school gym to do it. We operate our own radio network and put it on satellite. Any station could pick it up and there's no fee involved. We've really enjoyed them being with us."

Grant said WFWR carries the entire package, including pre-game and post-game shows. For the Army-Navy game of 2002, Grant said, "we had half the town out at the school auditorium to watch on a big screen. I don't think we had many listeners that day. Everybody was looking at television."

Smith will train to become a pilot once he graduates. When he leaves the academy, he will also leave hundreds of supporters in Indiana who have become ardent fans of the Midshipmen.

"Basically, we did this for our guy," Grant said. "Everybody here is interested in anything he does. But through listening to the games, they have become more attached to the other players, too. A lot of people have become Navy fans. We haven't made a decision about whether we'll continue, but we might. Navy has been very good to us, very receptive."

Who knows? Maybe another Josh Smith is out at 5 a.m. these days running in the snow to Attica High.

Next for Navy

Matchup: Navy (9-2) vs. New Mexico (7-4) in Emerald Bowl

Site: SBC Park, San Francisco

When: Thursday, 4:30 p.m.

TV/Radio: ESPN2/WJFK (1300 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: New Mexico by 2 1/2

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