Cardinals fly by BulldogsZion Smith has grown up watching every Cromwell-Wright football game since he began playing the sport in third grade. Now, as a freshman, he’s become the one to watch.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
Zion Smith has grown up watching every Cromwell-Wright football game since he began playing the sport in third grade. Now, as a freshman, he’s become the one to watch.
Cardinals fans watched Friday as Smith, the team’s quarterback, was 8-for-14 passing for 173 yards and a touchdown, along with his team-high 50 rushing yards in Cromwell-Wright’s 29-6 Great Northern Conference nine-man football win over host Carlton at Jim Erickson Field.
Smith, an athletic 6-foot, 188-pounder, was on last year’s varsity team as an eighth-grader, but this is his first season starting. He got the job when receiver Hunter Rauvola tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) two weeks ago and former starting QB, Austin Pfisthner, was repositioned to wideout.
Cardinals Coach Jeff Gronner said he has six freshmen who play regularly for his small program — which was won nine-man state titles in 1995, 1996, 1998 and 2010 — but was quick to note that Smith’s grade-level doesn’t meet with his talent.
“He’s not a true freshman, but more like a redshirt freshman,” said Gronner with a slight laugh, highlighting Smith’s seasoned value. “He’s a very smart kid who has played almost every position and understands a lot about football. Although he’s a freshman, he’s one of our leaders.”
“We have a lot of freshmen all over,” added Pfisthner. “[Zion] is big, can run, and can throw. He’s an athlete.”
That showed last week when Smith conducted the Cardinals (3-0) downfield on their opening drive, capped by a 14-yard touchdown run by Carter Karppinen. In the second quarter, Smith — who occasionally switches reps with Pfisthner — watched his junior teammate toss a 26-yard jump pass to Tristan Johnson one play after Pfisthner’s interception 10 seconds earlier.
“I was blocking for him on the sweep,” Smith said of Pfisthner’s poetic leaping heave. “I’m lucky to have him.”
Johnson, who had five catches for a game-best 131 yards, then caught his second score on a 36-yard pass from Smith to make it 20-0 by halftime, seemingly putting the game out of reach for Carlton. Dean Johnson also led all players defensively with 18 solo tackles.
“They have a well-represented tradition,” Carlton Coach Erik Hanson said. “Three years ago they hoisted the trophy.
“They have kids who love football,” Hanson continued.
Hanson has helped Carlton (0-3) rebuild its program from non-existent to a varsity conference in two short seasons. Last week, Dominic Bennett had the Bulldogs’ lone score.
“Football is my favorite sport,” said Bennett, whose 3-yard plunge came late in the final quarter. “And I just love my team.”
As does the must-watch Smith.
“It’s just a big honor to be playing right now,” Smith said.