There is a little over a month left in his high school career.
And there is still work left for Gage Smith to do as Sherman enters its bye week before traveling to Texas High next Friday.
The Bearcats have dropped their first two District 7-5A (I) contests against fellow playoff qualifiers from last year, McKinney North and then Mesquite Poteet, but the Bearcats still control their destiny to get one of the four spots depending on how they do in their final four games.
“Everything is in front of us. We have four guaranteed games left and we need to make them count,” Smith said.
Smith has been a crucial part of the previous two postseason appearances and the rise of a program that was at the bottom of the district standings before he arrived in high school.
Sherman had back-to-back 1-9 seasons while Smith was going through a growth spurt that took him from 5-foot-2 to 5-foot-8 in junior high. One of those wins was by forfeit. The most recent high-water mark for the Bearcats was much more memorable because in 2012, the program’s last playoff win — over Texas High in the first round — and finished 9-3, Smith’s older brother Dru, who is now an assistant coach at Corsicana, was Sherman’s quarterback.
He set the school record for touchdown passes with seven against Little Elm and single-season program marks with 3,826 passing yards and 39 TDs to finish among the top passers in Sherman history.
Those are the positive memories Smith took with him when it was his turn to make an impact on the Bearcat Stadium turf.
He was called up to the varsity in the latter half of his freshman year, contributing at receiver and on special teams.
“I came in summer camp and I had a really good first week and the coaches said if I kept working then I’d get my chance,” Smith said. “I kept battling and making plays. Ever since then I’ve kept working at it. I’ve kept that mindset all my years on varsity — I still haven’t arrived. I still have something to prove.”
By the beginning of his sophomore year, he earned his starting spot in the secondary and has held it ever since. He continued to contribute on special teams while his snaps on offense varied until getting a larger part of action there as a senior.
“I had to develop to be where I wanted to be on defense,” said Smith, who also plays basketball and runs track. “I’d much rather hit people than score a touchdown. But wherever they need me, I’m there. I won’t bat an eye. I do it for the better of the team. That’s what it’s all about, being a team player.”
So far this season Smith has eight catches for 195 yards and a touchdown as part of a balanced quartet of receivers, joining Benji Omayebu, Jacoby Hunt and Sean Husband in providing production for new starting QB Tate Bethel.
Smith is last of the group in catches as Omayebu leads with 24 and he’s third in yards but there is only 127-yard difference between first place (Omayebu) and fourth (Husband). They all have found the end zone at least once.
He contributed 16 catches for 186 yards and two TDs as a junior with almost all of that coming in Sherman’s bi-district loss against Magnolia West.
His work on defense has been noticed by coaches in the district. He was an honorable mention all-district pick as a sophomore and was second-team all-district last fall.
In addition to Smith’s play, his ability to be a leader has helped turn the program around from where it was when he entered as a ninth-grader. Along with classmates Mike Brown and Ethan Bedgood, both three-year varsity contributors, they were the first group head coach J.D. Martinez started with at the high school level when he was hired and helped provide the stability for success during their remainder of their high school careers.
“I’ve grown into that role as a leader. Keeping everybody up is my goal,” Smith said. “You don’t want to let them down. I’ve been with Coach Martinez from the jump and seen that culture change. Big, big culture change.”
Looking ahead to his future, Smith has an offer from East Texas Baptist and hopes to garner some more interest. But the immediate future is what’s most important — the four match-ups that will decide if Sherman returns to the postseason.
“We know what we have here. We’re going to put the best guys on the field,” Smith said. “I think during the bye week we’re going to use this time to get better.”