How Luke Smith’s career began and ultimately was altered is really a better story coming from the Cascade Christian senior himself.
Smith’s eyes get wide, his smile broadens as he re-imagines that very day against Lakeview and his voice speeds up faster than even he could run that fateful day as a precocious freshman for the Challengers.
“It was a kickoff against Lakeview,” the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder says, drawing a breath that will certainly be needed by the time he’s through.
“I was coming down super hard, as hard as I can, I was a freshman then and I was like, ‘I’ve got to show the coaches I’m not afraid to hit,’” Smith continues. “So I see this guy as I’m coming down who’s like 235 pounds and I’m like, ‘I’ve got this.’ So I just came down full speed, I put my shoulder down and he put his down and we kind of just smacked each other. I kind of looked at him and I was like, ‘Uhhhgh.’ I walked off the field and I didn’t show any emotion but when I got back onto my sideline, I was just like, ‘Coach, something’s wrong.’”
Then Smith trails off laughing and laughing, slyly slipping in a comment that what was initially believed to be a stinger turned into a torn rotator cuff and labrum.
He kept playing.
In fact, Smith went on to compete in wrestling, baseball and, of course, football before the lingering results of eventually having four tears in his right shoulder and three in his left turned into too much for him to be able to bear.
“He’s just an all-out type of kid,” says Challengers head coach Jon Gettman. “He really just is full pedal to the metal. He just goes as hard as he can in whatever he’s doing.”
Smith underwent right shoulder surgery just in time so he could play football last year, helping lead Cascade Christian to the Class 3A state championship, and feels healthier than ever these days as the Challengers enter Saturday’s semifinals clash with Amity in Cottage Grove.
“It’s been a lot of injuries and setbacks but God has a lot more in mind for me and I know that there’s a reason he did that,” says the 18-year-old Smith. “All in all I’m blessed to be here and I’m happy. It just makes me appreciate it all even more.”
What everyone has been able to appreciate is the impact Smith continues to have with the Challengers. In last week’s 57-8 romp over Scio, he posted a team-high 10 tackles at middle linebacker and, on offense, ran for 141 yards and four touchdowns on 17 carries to help Cascade Christian provide a balanced attack.
“I couldn’t be more excited to see him just get out there and play,” says Gettman, “because you know the type of player he’s fully capable of being so it’s good to see him be successful.”
“He’s maybe our most athletic player we have,” adds the coach. “Unfortunately in the past three years he’s really been hampered by injuries, so it’s good to see him be able to stay healthy throughout this season so far.”
All told, Smith stands as Cascade Christian’s leading tackler on defense with 59 tackles to go with four sacks, and his 856 yards and 13 rushing TDs on 120 carries also sets the tone for the Challengers’ ground-gainers. Smith has also caught seven passes for 142 yards.
“Whatever I can do to help my team is what I’m going to do,” says Smith. “All of that goes to them. I couldn’t do anything without my teammates, anything.”
It’s Smith’s constant motor and commitment to the team that impresses Gettman, and helps set the tone for a Challengers team that wasn’t necessarily penciled in to be a state semifinalist when the season began after undergoing a healthy turnover in several key positions.
“Looking back at the beginning of our season going to our football camp,” Smith recalls, “we were getting pounded on and we weren’t getting anywhere. Then to come into the season like this, I am just in awe. I’ve loved how hard this team has worked to make this happen.”
It’s that bit of perspective that Smith is able to provide that really helps his team as they face one obstacle after another in pursuit of their ultimate goal.
“I wake up every single day at 5:30 or 6 o’clock thinking I want to keep doing it,” he says. “I want to keep doing this for as long as I possibly can and as long as my body will let me. I love it and I relish in the moments that I’m going to miss. My journey in high school and my high school career, for a lot of us seniors, is almost over. And for a lot of us it could be the end for football overall so it’s something I really want to hold onto because I really love these memories.”
That’s why Smith is so adept at taking the good with the bad. It’s all a part of the journey, and all a part of what he says is constantly preached to the team by Cascade Christian’s coaching staff, which Smith deems the best in the state.
“They’re just a wonderful, awesome group of guys,” says Smith. “It’s not that they’re great football coaches, which they are, it’s what they are on the outside. It’s who they want to teach you to be. Honestly their goal is to make a man out of you, not for championship goals or winning state and stuff like that. That’s nice but their goal is to make someone who will represent God, represent yourself and your family well and will work hard and do their job. That’s what they really emphasize, just growing up and being a man of God.”
Part of that means when you’re moved from outside linebacker to the inside, you must have faith. When you’ve bounced around on the offensive end, don’t lose heart in your role as an integral piece of the puzzle.
“I really got cuddly in the outside linebacker position, I won’t lie,” says Smith. “I thought that was my position and I absolutely loved it. When they pushed me to the middle linebacker, I have to admit I wasn’t sure, but after about four or five games I really started to see that I love this position and I should have never doubted it.”
Smith says he expects to keep that kind of faith moving forward, be it on the playing field or beyond. He has hopes of playing at the college level, and also balances that with a desire to major in criminal justice so he can one day become a policeman and energize a whole new team.
“I researched it a lot and it just grasped my interest,” he says. “I love the community service. It’s a hard job but it’s also kind of gratifying and something I want to be a part of.”
Wherever Smith’s path may take him, you can bet he’ll be going all-out the entire way.