June 10, 2014
MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. - Blessings in disguise?
A neck injury cost Kyle Smithhis football career; an elbow injury cost him an entire track and field season.
Now, a finally-healthy Smith heads to the NCAA Track & Field Championships at the University of Oregon with a chance to end it all on a very high note with All-America honors.
Smith, a senior, is Central Michigan's lone representative at the championships, which run from Wednesday, June 11, through Saturday, June 14, at Oregon's Hayward Field. The javelin competition is scheduled for Saturday beginning at 6:35 EST.
"It was definitely a goal of mine to qualify for the NCAA Championships," said Smith, who has graduated with a perfect 4.0 grade point average with a degree in engineering and is headed to law school at the University of Virginia. "I just feel blessed to have the opportunity to go there and compete. Primarily my goal all season is to just finish higher than my seed because that shows that you've gone out and competed at a higher level than you have before.
"I can't really control how the other people will throw. I've just got to go out there and compete at the highest level that I can."
The fact that Smith is competing, at any level, let alone for a national title, is somewhat remarkable.
He came to Central Michigan with a pedigree as one of the top quarterbacks in Pennsylvania high school football history, holding state records (since surpassed) for yards and touchdowns in a season, and career TD passes.
He was also a pretty fair javelin thrower, too, having won a state title during his days at Lancaster Catholic High School.
A neck injury forced Smith to hang up his football cleats after just one season at CMU, then his 2013 track and field campaign was wiped out by an elbow injury that required surgery.
He continued to train and throw, but switched to his right (non-natural) arm. "He's not ambidextrous," CMU throwing coach John Ridgwaysaid. "The cool thing is he learned a lot in doing that. You've got to be a tough customer to do it because it's not going far and it doesn't look good.
"Kyle's about as mentally tough a guy as I've been around. He's got this real quiet determination. For his first two years he was throwing hurt and still would throw at his best at the conference championship. He's extremely competitive and he's a tough kid."
Smith's left elbow was finally healthy enough to begin throwing again last summer, and his performances have gotten progressively better which, at the end of the day, is how those in the business would draw it up.
He threw a personal-record 219 feet, 9 inches at the NCAA East Preliminary two weeks ago.
"Definitely it's not been easy, but I've been lucky to have an incredible support system with my family, with the track and field coaching staff," Smith said. "You just have to find stability in those unstable times and for me that's been my support system and my strong focus on academics.
"That's really helped me see the bigger picture and realize that once my college athletic career is done there are more things that I'd like to accomplish. I haven't stressed too much over the injuries. I've been blessed to come back strong and finish my career on a high note. I'm just fortunate to have the support system that I have."
Smith is seeded 17th heading into the championships. The top eight finishers earn first team All-America honors, the next eight are second teamers.
"You can kind of tell that he's surging at the right moment," Ridgway said. "You never know what someone's going to do on that day; you just ask them to go out and compete. Kyle's a great competitor and I think he's setting himself up to have a great chance to throw his best at Eugene."
Which is exactly where Smith's mind is.
"I'm hoping to improve my mark and if that makes me first team (All America) or second team or whatever, I'll just be proud of what I've accomplished," he said. "I'm proud that I'll be able to represent Central Michigan one more time. I just want to go out there and compete my best and just accept where that puts me in the top 24."