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Smith switches roles, steps up for St. Charles East offensive line

St. Charles East center Ben Smith (right) attempts to block a defender during Wednesday's practice.
St. Charles East center Ben Smith (right) attempts to block a defender during Wednesday's practice.

ST. CHARLES – St. Charles East junior Ben Smith embraced a switch from guard to center early in preseason.

Before he could raise a hand over the offensive line and pinpoint a coverage, he moved along to fill a team need. To him, that’s

Players have made selfless gestures before and since without attracting attention to themselves. Smith fits the same bill, even though teammates find him as feisty as they come.

Smith might have backpedaled on his role as a vocal leader when the season started, but he since has found that’s equally integral to his approach to the game.

“You’ve got to be tough on kids, but you’ve got to encourage them, too, to do their best,” he said. “I was quiet at the beginning of the year, trying to earn my place, and then now that they trust me and I trust them, if we can make each other better, I try to help out.”

Saints senior fullback/linebacker and team leader Joe Hoscheit smirked when asked if Smith ever had called him out this season.

Some things simply are unquestioned no-nos in the huddle, although Smith takes a more constructive approach either way.

For a front five that features several longstanding friendships, that’s a bit easier to do. Smith has played travel baseball with right tackle Tommy Wilson since they were children. Wilson says he, left tackle Nick Asquini and right guard Ian Crawford have known one another since “we were 3 or 4.”

Left guard Brennan Bosch, a sophomore, is the youngest of the group, but by now has taken cues from Smith that age is immaterial to the cohesiveness of a line. East will rely on that bond as it braces for a visit from unbeaten Batavia tonight. Like the Saints, the Bulldogs are 4-0 in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division and tied for the conference lead.

“They’re definitely a quick team,” Wilson said. “Got some strength on the line and their ’backers are really fast, but if we do what we’re supposed to do, we can handle them.”

Wilson played center as a junior last season while Smith was a captain for the sophomore team. Burly enough for that level, the 5-foot-10, 235-pound Smith committed to bulking up for the varsity, and in the offseason increased his back squat from 305 to 455 pounds.

He proved equally diligent as a football student. When the Saints needed to reshuffle their line as Wilson battled a summer ankle ailment, East coach Mike Fields and offensive line coach Matt Gehrig – a former head coach at Huntley – thought Smith could make an impact at center.

Smith has, but not before realizing centers never pull or that the way a defensive line is slanted means everything.

“He never blinked, either, which is awesome,” Fields said. “You get kids that when you want them to change positions, they want to fight you tooth and nail and get parents involved and it’s a nightmare. He was like, ‘Coach, anything I can do.’ He was awesome.”

Smith agrees, but is quick to elevate the rest of his teammates.

“I’ve learned on the fly, really, and I think I’ve played pretty well,” he said. “As well as everybody else.”

In the summer, he couldn’t be sure. Smith only knew he had to do what was asked and continue being a regular in the weight room.

Holding his tongue in the huddle, Smith still made an impression on teammates before opening up and taking charge.

“He’s a really good kid,” Hoscheit said, “and we all respect him.”

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