June 29, 2011 —
By Bill Mullaly
The appearance by graduated Hudson Tiger football player Matthew Smith in last Saturday’s gridiron all-star game was an historic moment for a Hudson player. Smith played in the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) East vs. West game that was played for the 31st consecutive year. His appearance was a first for a Hudson Tiger and it was a moment he will long remember. “It was a lot of fun and I feel it was a great honor to represent my team, school, community and family,” said Smith, 18, who is headed to play college football at Northern Michigan University. “It was a great experience and I feel fortunate to have been the first player ever from Hudson selected to play in this game. I made a bunch of new friendships and was on a team with a lot of very good players. All the guys were humble and just happy to be there and they were good teammates.”
Smith played in the annual all-star classic last Saturday at Central Michigan University’s Kelly/Shorts Stadium in the late afternoon contest. The final score saw Smith being a member of the victorious East team that won 30-13 over the West. This was the first time that one side had won three in a row so Smith was part of making all-star history. “We also won by a large margin and that hadn’t been done in a long time as most of the recent games were very close scores,” said Smith, who played tight end on offense and saw time on several special team units. “I felt that I fit in well with the players on the field and off. I thought that I played well and helped our team to the win and I got along very well with all my teammates. It was just a neat experience and I liked everything about the all-star week. It was a busy week with a lot of football but we had some time down time also to get to know our teammates.”
Smith arrived on Father’s Day Sunday afternoon at CMU to begin seven days of solid preparation for the game to follow the next Saturday. The squad had three practices the first three days on Monday through Wednesday after, of course, having a practice on Sunday evening. Then the coaches cut back the practices to twice on Thursday and Friday. Only one practice each day involved full pads but there was some contact and hitting involved but all the players wanted to make sure everyone stayed healthy for game day. “We did some hitting but nothing serious and it was not quite full contact as all these guys are headed to college on scholarships,” said Smith, who was one of 44 members of the East squad.
The team had a couple excursions off campus during the week and one was to go swimming in Mount Pleasant at a municipal pool and another trip was to a museum on a nearby Indian reservation. When the players had down time from practice they bonded with teammates and Smith got to know Manchester’s Dylan Neff who was also a member of the East team. “I met lots of guys and probably got to know about half my teammates real well but I already knew Dylan some from wrestling so we hit it off real good,” said Smith, who the lone representative from Lenawee County.
“I was thrilled to have Matt playing in this game,” said Hudson head coach Chris Luma, who was unable to attend the game due to a family commitment (see related story). “I had been wanting a Hudson player in this game for years and I have pushed hard so I was pleased that Matt was the first to participate. Also, from what I have been told he played well. I am very proud of him and my assistant Danny Rogers who was at the game said Smith did himself and Hudson proud by his performance.”
Smith was selected as a tight end and thus by rules could only play on offense but he also got in plenty of time on special teams. For the game his statistics were pretty impressive as he caught one pass for ten yards for a first down on a third and eight situation. Then he was in on four tackles on the special teams where he played on the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and extra point squads.
“It was a great experience for Matt and for myself as a coach to witness him playing in this game,” said Rogers, who attended along with his wife, Lindsey, and son, Payton. “He represented himself well and I was watching him on each play he was in there and he did some very good things. I watched him block two West players, one headed to State and the other player going to Penn State, and both of them never made a tackle when Matt was blocking them. I was really impressed that he went head-to-head with some of the top players in the state and he was very physical with them and hit hard.”
Rogers noted that Smith fit in well with the cream of the crop from around the state from the biggest schools and he more than held his own. “I wish he could have played some defense but he still got in his good hits blocking and on special teams,” said Rogers, who is the Hudson defensive coordinator. “What I think is very important is that he played well and showed that a kid from Hudson deserved to be in this game. I hope this will make it easier for us to get another player in this game down the road in the years to come. I was very proud of him and I think it has opened the door for future Hudson players.”
Smith played on the East team that was led by its head coach from Manchester in Wes Gall and one of his assistants was Sand Creek’s Ernie Ayers who was Smith’s position coach for the week. “Coach Ayers was a great guy and it was fun playing for him,” said Smith about the local Aggie coach. Smith made the team after Tiger head Coach Luma pushed hard for him in the post-season after Hudson was coming off of the school’s first ever MHSAA state championship season. “Coach Gall knew how important it was to me and Hudson to have a player in this game as we had not been able to land a player in the game before so it was thrilling to have Matt be the first,” said Luma, who spent Saturday at an all-star game but it was one on the hardwood.
Smith will go down in Tiger football history as the first gridiron athlete to perform in the MHSFCA all-star game and he knows it was a special moment. “I want to thank my coaches for all they have done for me. Coach Luma, Coach Rogers, Coach Mark Luma and all the rest during my career,” said Smith, who also appreciated all his parents, Jerry and Anne, and brothers, Eric and David, had done for him. “It was a truly memorable experience to be up there at Central playing with and against the best players in the state. It was fun and a special moment and it was great to see a few Hudson fans there also.”
Taking in the game were Smith’s parents, brother David, the Rogers and son, John and Gwen Marry and coach Luma had to give up his tickets to be at his daughter’s all-star basketball game that same night. Taking his spot were Grant Benschoter, Joel Varney and Cole Weaver. Chuck and Barb Williams also made the game taking a trip by motorcycle to the event. “It was a great game, wonderful experience for Matt and it was a sunny, beautiful day for football,” said Matt’s proud mom, Anne.
NMU-bound Smith also noted that the banquet held on Friday night was a great experience also as each player was introduced in an event held at the Soaring Eagle Casino. Each player got to keep his game jersey and they were also given a plaque with the team picture next to the player’s individual picture. Also, a special game program was printed and each player was featured, though, they did have to raise a total of $1,000 in advertising and Smith wanted to thank his sponsors. CR Motor Sales, Malabar Manufacturing, Luma Insulation, Rima Manufacturing, Hudson Athletic Boosters, Shaffer’s Evergreen Golf Course, Butch’s Sports Bar, Shaffer’s Tental Rental, Bob’s Market House. Also, Anne Smith’s brothers and sisters all contributed to the program advertising supporting Matthew. “It was a totally awesome experience and I feel real honored to have been chosen,” said Smith, who appreciated the help of his sponsors. “I want to thank all those businesses that supported me.”
He will now spend the rest of the summer getting ready to report to Northern Michigan on August 9th to begin his career as a Wildcat. His final act as a prep player was one he will always remember as a first-time Tiger playing in the state all-star game.