Mount Zion senior Austin Smith has been taking track and field a little serious this season, and it has shown in the results. He won the county championship in the high jump and long jump last week. (Photo by Derrick Mahone)
By Derrick Mahone
Austin Smith kept a watchful eye on the long jump pit.
He had long finished competing in the event at last week's Clayton County Championship, but was awaiting the final results.
The Mount Zion senior had a jump of 21-feet, 3.5 inches at Twelve Oaks Stadium. He was hoping that it would be enough to win the event.
But next to his last jump, Lovejoy junior Joe Marable emerged from the sand with a jump of 21-9. Smith smiled and then congratulated Marable, who had playfully kidded throughout his jumps.
"I thought I was going to win it," Smith said. "I was wishing throughout Joe's jumps that I had made my last one."
Smith scratched on his last jump as he got his steps "mixed up" and was out of the competition.
As he participated in the high jump nearby, he kept an eye on the long jump competition on the cold spring day.
"Austin is a competitor," Marable said. "It was a lot of fun."
Smith's disappointment quickly turned to excitement as he won the high jump with a personal-best 6-4 to beat out Marable, who purposely scratched his last jump. The two battled under the lights as many of the other competitors and coaches had headed for warmer shelter.
With Marable gone from the competition, Smith missed clearing 6-6 on his last jump.
"It wasn't too disappointed, because it was so cold," Smith said. "I'm proud of myself and what I was able to do at the county meet. I'm looking forward to battling Joe again at region. I'm sure it will be a lot warmer then."
Marable's win in the long jump prevented Smith from sweeping the long jump, triple jump and high jump events at the county meet. The 6-foot-3 Smith won the triple jump at 44-11, in his first full season of doing the event.
A three-sport standout at Mount Zion, Smith competed part-time last season in track and field. He was mainly playing AAU basketball, which occupied the majority of his time last spring.
He was using basketball as a form of "staying in shape" while preparing for his senior season in football. It paid off for Smith, who had 530 receiving yards and eight touchdowns as the starting wide receiver. He also had three interceptions as a safety. Last February, he signed a football scholarship with South Carolina State, a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) school that competes in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Mount Zion track and field coach Barry Howard knows that Smith could be a solid competitor in track if he put more time in it.
"He is doing a lot this on just raw talent," Howard said. "If he gets serious about it, he could be really good. I think he has the talent to compete in college, but it just depends on how serious he gets."
Right now, Smith doesn't have plans of doing both sports in college, but said he would let the S.C. State track coaches know that he has competed in the sport.
"If they ask me, I would do it," Smith said. "The main thing is getting ready for football."
Smith will have to make a decision to play either offense or defense for the Bulldogs, who reached the FCS playoffs last season. He said the coaches will also use him as a kickoff returner on special teams.
At this point, Smith said he would like to play offense.
"Nine out of 10 times, I would chose wide receiver," Smith said. "I like scoring. I like having the ball in my hands."
But for now, he is fully dedicated to track and field.
"My whole focus is to get better for region," Smith said. "I want the opportunity to go to state. I know the weather will be warmer, so I'm looking forward to some good jumps."