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Norwalk kicker Smith keeps team ball boys busy

Mark Hazelwood • Nov 14, 2019 at 6:34 PM

NORWALK — It all seems so simple.

After a touchdown, be in position to catch an extra point attempt kicked through the goalposts. Same for a potential field goal attempt.

But life as a ball boy on Friday nights for the Norwalk football team has certainly come with some unexpected challenges this season. That’s what happens when you try to chase down booming kicks from one of the top kickers in Ohio, junior Garrison Smith.

“You never know where it’s going to go,” said eighth-grader Grant Maloney, the younger brother of standout linebacker, Alec. “It can be anywhere. You have to be prepared to go anywhere. When Garrison kicks, everything is in play.”

That’s because Smith will kick an extra point sometimes from 50-to-60 yards deep. Entering Friday’s Division III second-round playoff game vs. Sandusky in Bellevue, the kicker is a perfect 49-of-49 on extra point attempts and 11-of-12 on field goal attempts. Six of those field goals are from beyond 40 yards — including a school record 53-yarder — and even those have plenty of distance to spare.

"You have to set up 30-to-40 yards past the goal posts usually,” said eighth-grader Ryan Fox, the son of head coach Todd Fox. “And at home games, sometimes it goes over the fence (in the north end zone), and sometimes it doesn't. We try to be in position, but there is never really a way of being too sure how far and where it will end up.”

 

Watch out for crops

The ball boys don’t want to suggest they didn’t want the Truckers to score more often in the second half of a 38-6 win at Edison on Sept. 20.

But it was perhaps the most difficult of circumstances.

“The bean field ... yeah, that one was the worst,” Ryan Fox said. 

That’s because the Edison High School track in the north end zone goes right up to the edge of a nearby farmer’s bean field. So when Smith clubbed not one, but two extra points facing that direction — they went deep into the field, before the beans were harvested.

"I had to get one of those when he kicked it way over into the field at Edison,” said second-grader Grayson Dillon, the stepson of Todd Fox and stepbrother to Ryan. “I had to go in there after it. It’s fun to see who can get the ball first, but maybe not that time.”

For his part, Smith said he doesn’t really watch the end result of his kicks. 

“Most of the time I just see that it’s through the uprights and start walking off,” he said. “I don't really pay attention to where the ball goes afterwards.”

However, the NCAA Division I recruit said the field in Edison was a topic of conversation on the same night he kicked a then-school record 50-yard field goal to the south end zone in Milan.

“I do remember them coming up to me and pointing out they had to go into the field to get the ball,” Smith said. “And you’re in the game and the moment, but I told them, ‘I’m sorry, but that makes me pretty happy.’”

But Edison is far from the only logistical struggle. When Smith gets a hold of one at the Whitney Field north side, one of the ball boys may have to jump the fence in front of the visitor’s locker room to retrieve the football. Ryan Fox also noted the south end zone has a notorious spot in the grass that the kids need to avoid.

“If it rains, there is a six-inch puddle you have to avoid slipping in, but especially to avoid the ball getting wet,” he said.

Grant Maloney’s “worst” encounter this season was an Oct. 18 game at Perkins. The facility has a net set up in the west end zone to prevent any footballs from going too far toward the track and scoreboard, where a crowd of people also stands to watch the game from near the concession stands.

But the net is no use when Smith kicks it high and over it completely — which he did in Norwalk’s 45-6 win.

“It can go over the fence at home, we’re kind of used to that,” Grant said. “But at Perkins it went over the net and into a crowd of people. That was a mess to get through. The net really wasn’t much help, but that just shows how good Garrison is.”

 

All in good fun

All of this isn’t to say Smith and the ball boys don’t take care of each other.

Last week’s first-round home playoff game against Cleveland Glenville saw game time temperatures of 29 degrees.

But on the sidelines, Grant Maloney could be seen in front of a portable heater — holding in front of it the football Smith went on to kick a 41-yard field goal with in the second quarter of the 22-2 win.

“It's fun because it keeps them part of the game, and it also helps me and the team as well,” Smith said. “Instead of kicking a cinder block last week, I'm kicking a nice, warm leather ball that won't hurt my foot. It's fun, and awesome to have them there for us.”

Grant says the ball boys feel the same way.

“It’s a lot of exercise when he kicks, honestly,” he said. “But I like being with the team and traveling with them, and just being a part of it. Garrison impresses me a lot.

“He’s really nice to us and we want to help him so he can achieve more. We’ll do anything we can to help him out.”

Over the offseason, Smith made big strides under the direction of Filip Filipovic of “The Kicking Coach” out of the Akron area. And that is the direction the ball boys can point to as to why they had to figure out how to jump fences, fight through crowds — or navigate a bean field.

“Coach Filipovic has taught me to kick it as far as possible, every time,” Smith said. “Because the moment you change it from, ‘Hey I'm just going to chip this one through,’ you won't be able to hit from 50 or 60 yards.

“You'll end up changing your kick and have to start over again,” he added. “So kick it as hard and accurate as possible, the same way, every time.”

But Ryan Fox said by now, the ball boys have the routine down.

“We’re good now, but we’re all very impressed with Garrison,” he said. “I've never seen a kicker like that, who kicks it that far every single time.”

Meanwhile, young Grayson enjoys the competition aspect of the entire spectacle.

“One time Ryan said it was his, and I pushed him out of the way and caught it with no problem,” he said. “It's a competition, we like to see who can get to it first, because he kicks it so far. We run into each other a lot, and sometimes I come out with it.”

And at age 8, Grayson also doesn’t hold back on his opinion of Smith.

“I think he's the best kicker, he has the best leg — and I think he's better than most NFL kickers,” he said.

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