Out of the shadows

WOODBRIDGE — With Hylton boasting a lethal running attack that features four players with more than 600 yards from scrimmage, Bryan Smithen doesn’t pretend he’s the best player on the Bulldogs’ team or even in their backfield.

But on Oct. 26, he felt like it.

With the Bulldogs trailing once-beaten Gar-Field 10-7 in the final seconds, Hylton coach Bill Brown went to Smithen on fourth down and goal at the 2-yard line, and the senior came through to keep an undefeated season intact.

After the Indians’ defense had collared quarterback Jeff Overton and running backs Ahmad Brooks and Ben Harrison on three successive plays, Davis handed off to Smithen who busted through a Gar-Field would-be tackler at the line of scrimmage and went over the goal line to give the Bulldogs’ a 13-10 victory.

“Now, I see it for the whole thing because it’s not just Ahmad and it’s not just Ben, it’s the whole team,” Smithen said. “Things like that put me up on a higher step to get to where I needed to go.”

Smithen wasn’t so much the final option on the team that day but another aspect of the Bulldog’s multi-talented offense.

“Who do you key on?” Brown queried. “Ben [Harrison] comes right at you and you got Ahmad [Brooks] going one way and Bryan going another. He [Smithen] holds up his end of the bargain. He’s a threat. If he wasn’t one, then we wouldn’t be nearly as successful.”

Brown also believed that Smithen would come through for the Bulldogs on that deciding play for another simple reason: It had worked before.

“That play we ran was a play we had run successfully during the game,” Brown said. “He had six or eight carries [on that play] and was getting good yardage out of it. Quite frankly, I gave the others a chance. I gave the quarterback a chance and Ahmad a chance and Jeff a chance so it was his turn.”

While not as bruising as Harrison or as flashy as Brooks, Smithen has been equally as effective. Smithen has rushed 98 times for 633 yards, a 6.5 yards per carry average, and scored seven touchdowns. He has also caught two passes for scores.

“He gives you a different style runner than Ahmad and some of the other guys,” Brown said. “You might be one on one with him and still not touch him. He doesn’t have blazing speed but he as quick as anybody.”

And when the game is on the line like it was at Gar-Field, he can break a few tackles to boot.

“He was hit on the 2-yard line and was able to keep driving his legs,” Brown said. “He quickly turned into power runner on that play. The safety had blitzed the gap he was in and he met him on the 2-yard line, which was about the line of scrimmage.”

After finishing his career at Hylton, Smithen wants to play football in college, regardless of the position he lines up at. He has received some interest from Division II schools Catawba (N.C.), Elon (N.C.) and Concord (W. Va.)

“I like to know all the positions,” said Smithen, who’s also started several games at safety this season. “I want to know if I need to do this or that or need to do something else, or if I’m okay.”

It’s this flexible attitude that had Brown thinking Smithen could play a little quarterback this season. Smithen was tabbed the fifth-string quarterback late last season after a series of injuries to Hylton signal-callers left the Bulldogs starting Jeff Overton in the playoffs.

“We were practicing him at QB last year and when he was our QB [in practice], he was doing a good job with that,” Brown said. “We almost kept him at QB this year.”

For now, Smithen will have to settle for about eight carries a game and a chance at Hylton’s third state title, which is just fine with him.

“I’m not like Ahmad,” Smithen said. “He’s like 6-1 and his size is what people see. Since I don’t have the size, I make it up in my heart. … If I’m in like a sticky situation, I still just go and I don’t stop and I just keep my legs moving.”

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