By Matt Goisman
McALESTER — For some, a lack of height is a disadvantage. And as a 5-foot-5 running back for the McAlester Buffaloes, senior Jarome Smith sometimes disappears behind the line of scrimmage.
But more often than not, that works in Smith’s favor. The speedy and quick-cutting Smith can turn just a moment of defensive hesitation into a big offensive play.
“People ask me, ‘Would you rather be taller or shorter?’” Smith said on Sept. 25. “I always say ‘Shorter,’ because I feel like if I cut the right way, they won’t be able to see me for a second.”
Smith has lived his whole life in McAlester, going through the McAlester Public Schools system every year but the fifth grade, when he went to Lakewood Christian School. He spent his Friday nights watching the Buffaloes at Hook Eales Stadium, idolizing the older players and playing ball outside the stadium,.
Children still play football outside of Hook Eales every Friday, but now it’s Smith they’re idolizing.
“Up there where the fence is (at Hook Eales), we used to play football on that hill every Friday night,” Smith said. “I think I got a lot of my juke moves from up there.
Smith’s football career began in the third grade. Though he started playing basketball as young as 6 years old, Smith said it took just a couple of competitive football games for him to make that his new sport of choice.
“Fourth grade, me and my friend Richaun (Know), we were always the top athletes growing up,” Smith said. “We had a game where we played against each other, and we matched each other touchdown for touchdown. I ended up scoring seven, and he ended up scoring six.”
Smith said he stuck with offensive positions in his first few years, switching between wide receiver, running back and quarterback. He became a linebacker in seventh grade at Puterbaugh Middle School, enjoying finally getting to hit someone instead of getting hit.
Head varsity coach Bryan Pratt said even before Smith arrived at McAlester High School, he knew what Smith would bring. Smith and Pratt’s son Caden, another Buffs senior, had become friends in middle school, and coaches started noticing Smith’s talents about that same time.
“He came up here, and just some of his natural skills, his vision and the way he can cut, things like that, we saw that and we knew that it was about as good as anybody that we had,” Coach Pratt said.
“It’s a big family, and that’s what we want it to be, and I think he’s really bought into that.”
Smith made the varsity as a freshman in 2010. He got his first touch in an Oct. 29 home game against Tulsa Hale, catching a screen pass.
“I almost scored,” Smith said. “Ran for like 60 yards and got tackled at the 2.”
Of his first game, he added, “I was more than nervous. I was a little scared.”
Smith said learning the blocking schemes for McAlester’s quarterback counter runs have been the toughest to figure out, in part because of the size of most defensive linemen. As running back, Smith said he’s most tried to copy the moves of Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
Smith’s time in McAlester hasn’t been spotless. Though he wouldn’t mention specifics, he said “trouble comes here easily.”
But whatever issues Smith has had to deal with, he’s been able to move past them and develop the maturity demanded of the Buffs’ seniors and starting players. And he’s all but flown out of the gate this year, compiling 280 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns in his first three games, plus 63 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions.
“I look at is my team, and I look at it as I’m going to carry them, do whatever I need to do for us to win,” Smith said.
“Every time I get the ball, I’m trying to score a touchdown.”
Though right now the Buffs are starting to get into the grind of the season, Smith said he expects he’ll look up at some point and realize the season has flown by. Coaches and former players often tell the Buffs to cherish these moments, Smith said, and he’s tried to take that message to heart.
“Being around the whole thing for as long as I’ve able to be around it is truly special,” Smith said.
“We’ve all been together since middle school, running the same type of system, doing the same thing with the same goal in mind. Going through so much together has made us all just strong and determined.”
Smith and the rest of the Buffs want to end this season with a state championship. Whether or not they get that title, Smith said he’s trying to continue his football career in college, the most attention so far having come from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah.
Smith said he wants to study physical education so he can become a football coach, maybe even someday returning to coach the Buffs.
As someone who’s had to overcome both a lack of size and the occasional off-the-field issue, Smith definitely has a lot to teach young football players.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.