ERIE — Wyatt Smith picked one heck of a time to give football a try.
The Erie senior stands at 6-foot-3 and weighs 235 pounds, and though he had never shown any interest in playing the sport before, Smith easily caught the eye of Erie head football coach Chad Cooper during one of his classes last spring. Cooper convinced Smith to join the football team as a backup left tackle. Less than a year later, Smith will play in next weekend's Class 3A state championship game at the end of his first and only season ever playing the game.
But Smith isn't just along for the ride. In the week leading up to the Tigers' semifinal game against Longmont, which they won 31-14 on Saturday, Smith made the unexpected switch from backup left tackle to tight end. The switch was so last-minute that the Tigers didn't have time to change his number from 60 to 37 in the program.
With Smith switching positions, the Tigers were able to run a double tight end formation that allowed them to put up 342 rushing yards and four touchdowns against the Trojans' vaunted defensive front seven, and turned out to be one of the biggest reasons they won the game.
"I never thought I was going to join football," Smith said. "I've been playing left tackle this whole time and I really wanted to try my hardest to become a starter since I joined the team. One day last week, coach just walked up to me and said, 'We need another big guy on the line so we're going to put you in. You're going to have to switch numbers.' I had a week of practice and I just tried my hardest to do the best I could.
"I missed a lot of blocks but I was happy to be out there and it was a great time. I gave football a shot and I'm here now. I feel like the good luck charm of the team."
Smith had only entered the fray in one previous game when the Tigers played Frederick on Nov. 3 and played between 50 and 60 snaps in the semifinals.
"We know their front seven or eight guys are formidable so we had to do some stuff, some looks they haven't seen," Cooper said. "Because of how talented they are, we had to get them in some different spots. Wyatt Smith moved to tight end so we could run a package we call Sumo and get an extra blocker on the line. He blocked his butt off and he did a great job."
The coaching decision to move Smith to tight end was one of many schematic and strategic decisions that proved effective for the Tigers. Direct-snapping the ball to running back Noah Roper to get the ball into his hands faster worked well, as he ran for 254 yards and scored twice. Using Roper as a decoy to create running opportunities for quarterback Jacob Mansdorfer often worked equally well.
After fumbling twice in the quarterfinals against Durango, Mansdorfer was happy to make amends with 59 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15 attempts while making sure the Tigers were consistently running the right plays on Saturday.
"We came into the game knowing we were going to get a lot of different looks from them so we went with a lot of no-calls to try to figure out what they were doing so we could audible the play," Mansdorfer said. "And a lot of it is Noah. He pulls defenders to him and that opens up lanes for me that wouldn't normally be there. Especially after having a rough week last week, it just feels great to be able to contribute to the team."