In just his second season playing football, EDSS Grade 10 student Karsten Smith was named MVP for WCSSAA’s junior level. The award is just the latest chapter in a continuous rise for Smith, who had never played football before last fall.
In the spring he played for the Waterloo Predators (now known as the Junior Warriors) regional AA team and was part of Ontario’s U16 team that finished second in the Eastern Regional Challenge this past July.
“My coach called me later in the night and told me that I was the MVP of the league, so obviously I was very surprised. Still, at that moment, I really didn’t know what that word meant – I really just thought I was MVP of the team, which obviously felt really good to be recognized. After knowing the next day when I talked to one of our coaches, knowing how big of an award it was, it really felt [great],” explained Smith.
In the 10-year history of the award, this is the first time a Lancer has claimed it. That follows another historic first for the team, as it won its first-ever WCSSAA championship last month.
“It was a really good season. I think we came out with some experienced players, but also a lot of inexperienced players, and we really came fast,” Smith said.
“I think it just kind of snowballed and we really became a really strong team – we just kept winning and then no one wanted to stop winning.”
According to coach Alex Derma, Smith was an important part of the championship team.
“Without him we had a huge void. He allowed us to cover the outside run easier because he would handle the middle because he would just make every play in the middle of the field for us,” Derma explained.
Smith also took on a leadership role with the team.
“He was the first captain we named along with our quarterback. And we knew right away he was going to be a silent leader. He’s not a rah, rah cheery kind of guy, he’s just ‘this is what I do.’
“If he ever needed practice off or he was injured or whatever, he would go coach those kids that were taking over his spot and say ‘hey, this is where you need to be.’ And you’d see him pulling kids aside and showing them where they have to go and why you have to go there. His demeanor, the way he delivers and the way he speaks to people, it makes it easy for kids to listen to him because… they realize the way he’s talking to him he is trying to help them.”
Along with that leadership role came more responsibility for Smith. After spending his first year exclusively on the defensive line, Smith played several positions in all phases of the game throughout the season, including middle linebacker, running back, fullback, placekicker and punter.
“I started off playing on both sides of the ball, just because I was one of the experienced players and I think I had that confidence level that others didn’t. And with some injuries, I had to move around and I think I was able to be successful in most of the positions that I played,” Smith said.
While he does have natural skill, Smith is also very coachable, Derma stated.
“You can approach Karsten anytime about anything. And ask him, ‘how do you feel about this? What do you think is the best situation for you to be in?’ So when you can talk to a player like that and you know that the response he’ll give you is going to be one that you trust, it makes it a lot easier to work with him. A lot of junior kids, you basically have to tell them where they need to go because they’re not either experienced or confident enough to know they have to go there. But with Karsten you can have a conversation, he’s like another coach on the field,” he explained.
“He’s just very aware, the cerebral part of his game is very high, where he knows where to be and where to go. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t make mistakes, it’s still Grade 10 football, but he’s just very accountable and he’s always where he needs to be.”
The MVP award will help the Lancers’ football program to continue to grow, Derma added.
“Grade 8s coming [to EDSS) see there’s a winning program here. They’ve got an MVP of all Waterloo. They were undefeated. All these things contribute to building that culture that you want to have,” he said.
Smith plans to play for the regional team again in the spring, with the hope of making the provincial team again. Although that will be more of challenge now that Smith has moved into the older age group, he said.
“I’ll be going against people that are aged up to 18; being 15, that is a three year gap, so it’ll be harder. Obviously I’ll try my best to make the team and if I do, it’d be even more of an accomplishment than last year,” said Smith.
Derma sees Smith continuing to progress at the senior level.
“If he keeps going in the same direction he’s going in and the same rise of development that he has been the last two seasons here, he’s going to be a very good player. He’ll be competing for senior MVP at the end of his grade year 12 or 12 plus year if he keeps going at this level.”
Smith credited his coaches for allowing him to get as far as he has.
“They helped push me through the games and they had a lot of faith in me starting the season. I think they relied on me a lot and I think that they’re able to push me to my highest to allow me to get the MVP and allow us to win the championship. So I don’t think we’ve been able to do it without my team and my coaches.”