TAMPA — A few minutes after Jesuit’s Joquez Smith smoked Miami Northwestern with 22 carries for 234 yards and three touchdowns in a Class 6A state semifinal, opposing coaches had a few words for him.
The assistants told Smith that their linebackers “couldn’t find you” behind the Tigers’ big linemen. Then Smith would suddenly pop out and be off to the races.
Tuesday afternoon, Smith recounted the story and chuckled with a deeply infectious rumble.
“I liked to hear that,” the junior said. “That’s just what I wanted to hear.”
Smith doesn’t have time to listen to some folks say he’s too short or small (he’s listed at 5-foot-8, 190 pounds), because none of that talk matters.
All that matters are results: In 14 games, he has rushed 219 times for 1,883 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said Smith’s numbers could have been much bigger if not for the fact he was pretty much pulled by halftime in every game except for that 37-12 state semifinal victory and the 24-21 regular-season victory over Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, then ranked No. 4 in the country.
Against Aquinas, Smith finished with 21 carries, 171 yards and a touchdown.
Smith chuckled and shook his head at his accolades: “I have to give it all up for my linemen. Every chance I get I tell them how much I appreciate them. They open the holes and I shoot through. I love my linemen.”
Thompson said he loves Smith’s style on the field — “slow to it and fast through it” — and off: “Boisterous and funny and when he says something it’s always on point. People listen to him.”
This week, Smith, the only junior who serves as a team captain, was asked about his college opportunities, which include USF and Cincinnati, among a host of others.
He is undecided, then added matter-of-factly: “This week it’s all about focusing on the (Class 6A) state championship. The college stuff has to wait a little bit.”
The opponent is Pensacola Pine Forest, which comes in 12-1 and ranked No. 9 in the state by MaxPreps. Jesuit, 14-0 and ranked No. 10 in the nation, is considered the heavy favorite, but Smith said there’s no way the Tigers are going to take anyone for granted.
“We are confident but in a great way,” Smith said. “We feel confident that if we play our game we’ll get the job done.”
That means Smith will take plenty of handoffs, assess the mass of bigger bodies before him and start churning his stout, muscular legs toward an opening.
Linebackers no doubt will lose him in the pile of big bodies before he pops out and either jukes or just flat runs someone over, low to the ground with superior leverage.
The Tigers linemen said they, like Thompson, love Smith’s style.
“When I pull on a play and I’m running to block a linebacker, I feel (Smith) coming up on my side and I know he’s going to make something good happen,” senior offensive guard Jonah Tran said. “Then you know he’s going to come up afterward and bring the energy, bring something uplifting. That’s just the way he is. You can expect it.”
AT DRV PNK STADIUM, FORT LAUDERDALE
7A: Tampa Bay Tech vs. Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, 7 Friday
6A: Jesuit vs. Pensacola Pine Forest, 7 p.m. Saturday