From Bison to Big Red: Senior will walk on

Thursday, April 20, 2017
Family arrived in full force to support McCook senior Sam Smith as he announced his plans for running with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln track and field program Wednedsay afternoon. Seated from left are dad Jeff Smith, Sam and mom Julie Smith. Standing are sister Madison Smith, grandfather Merle Cox and grandmother Cathy Cox. Smith is a top runner in multiple events for McCook this spring.
R.B. Headley

McCOOK, Neb. — Sam Smith could run for any Nebraska college or perhaps even venture down south to join the NCAA Division I Kansas State University Wildcats.

“They (K-State coaches) were interested, but they told me I had to get faster,” he said about Nebraska’s former Big 12 Conference foe.

The McCook High senior plans on doing just that no matter how he many races he wins this spring. His Bison goals are laser-focused on hitting full speed for those grand finales at Omaha Burke Stadium next month.

“Why not us?” Smith responded when asked about McCook winning a Class B boys’ track and field team title.

Yet all that will only lead to the next question:

Could Sam Smith wear K-State Wildcat purple and white?

Not a chance.

Sam Smith wants to keep wearing the red which developed him into a top track athlete.

Maybe the blazing Arizona sun ignited Sam’s running abilities long before he started kindergarten.

“He started playing competitive soccer when we were living in Arizona,” mom Julie Smith recalled. “He was only three or four years old, but they would run every day before practice — sometimes two or thee miles. Sam never complained.”

Sam could have complained about leaving soccer behind. Mom Julie and dad Jeff Smith are Hayes Center natives who returned to their southwest Nebraska homeland in 2010.

Instead, Sam almost instantly developed a love for red by meeting his first new Bison friend: senior classmate Ben Bradley.

“Ben was one of my best friends when I came to McCook. He taught me all the ropes and helped me fit in,” Sam said. “And Ben remains one of my good friends. He inspires me to give 100 percent every day.”

So many other Bison friends and coaches helped Sam continue developing into a high-level athlete.

Sam learned the “other football” where became a top kicker, receiver and defensive back on recent Class B state semifinalist teams.

Perhaps most important was how Bison friends helped develop Sam’s confidence.

Take track and field coach Tom Sughroue as a great example.

Sam said the “switch really turned on” during his junior track season one year ago.

He reached the Class B 400-meter dash finals and gave champion Cody Mroczek one fantastic final race at Burke Stadium.

Sughroue didn’t stop following Mroczek as the Columbus Scotus Shamrock has now become a Nebraska Cornhusker.

“Coach Sughroue said he (Mroczek) finished only four-100ths of a second ahead of me,” Smith recalled.

Totally true: Mrozcek won the 400 with his time of 49.94 seconds; Smith finished in 49.98.

“Coach told me you’re every bit as good as him (Mroczek),” Sam added.

So Smith will take his love for red to another level after this final Bison season.

On Wednesday, he officially announced plans to “walk on” with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s track and field team.

“I am a big Nebraska fan and excited about the opportunity,” Smith proclaimed. He’s among several home-state athletes who’s drawn interest from the Cornhuskers.

“I’m not conerned (about being a walk-on),” Sam added. “I will get chances to score points at (Big Ten) conference and other big meets. I will have chances to earn my scholarship.”

Once again, great Bison connections are helping S.S. make this transition. McCook High alum Spencer Powell is currently competing in pole vault as a redshirt freshman for the Huskers.

“Spencer is one who’s helped me become aware of the college process,” Smith said. “I am looking forward to it.”

His early plans are to focus on education in Lincoln with no plans on forgetting about all his great days at McCook.

“I would like someday to come back to McCook and be a teacher and coach,” Sam declared.

That also shows another great connection for Sam. His family of both parents, grandmother Cathy Cox, grandfather Merle Cox and younger sister Madison Smith were all in McCook High’s gym on Wednesday for the announcement.

Grandpa Merle was a discus thrower while Sam expects dad Jeff could still give home one good challenge in armwrestling. However, the family strength goes beyond athletics.

“My mom has been an inspiration from working five days a week, yet every day I have come to a well-cooked meal,” he concluded. “She’s shown me how you can get things done even when you are tired.”

The Bison compete next at Lexington on Friday.

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