UNION — For a runner who spent just two of his high school years on the track, Daniel Boone senior Xavier Smith sure put together an amazing track and field career.
Switching from football and basketball to track and field in the spring of his junior year, Smith instantly was one of the best in the sprints. And not just around here, but in all of Pennsylvania.
His first spring season, Smith surged to the top of District 3-AAA in the sprints, first winning both the 100 meter and 200 meters at the Berks Conference Championships and a week later both at the 2013 District 3-AAA Championships. He went on to win the bronze medal in the 100 meters at states and also advanced to the semifinals in the 200.
He gave up basketball that winter in favor of indoor track and had a fantastic winter indoor season.
This spring track season, only his second but final high school one, Smith again captured the Berks Conference and District 3-AAA championship gold in the 100 (10.78) and the 200 (21.90), and won two more gold medals anchoring his Blazers' 4x100 and 4x400 relays at the district championships. He went on to capture the silver in the 100 (10.67) and the bronze in the 200 (21.85) at the PIAA Championships. Smith rewrote the Daniel Boone record books in the 100, 200 and as a member of the 4x100 and 4x400 relays along the way. He also wrote his place as The Mercury's All-Area Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
"Looking back at it, I'm happy,' said the Penn State-bound Smith. "It's the best I could have done and I'm proud about that. It was my last year and I wanted to make the most of it, to go out with a whole bunch of memories. And I have a lot of them.'
What drove Smith on the tracks was no different than what drove him on the gridiron and courts, where he was also one of the Blazers' best.
"Go out there and try to be number one,' he said. "It's something I grew up with. My parents always told me to always strive to be first. Knowing you did your best is the best feeling you can have.'
Running track had not even entered his mind until a casual conversation with his parents one day a couple of years ago as they were reminiscing about how his brother JR, two years older and a former Blazers basketball and track standout now running for Gwynedd-Mercy College, had started running track his junior year and became a great sprinter. Maybe Xavier should give it a try too, they mused.
And with that Smith joined the Blazers winter indoor track team his junior year. Instantly he was a standout in the sprints.
"I knew I had a good shot of being OK,' he said. "Because I work hard at everything I do and so I figured I'd be decent at it. I didn't know it would take me this far,' he said.
Especially not right away, not to two district championship gold medals that very first year.
"That definitely surprised me,' he said. "Because it was my first year, I'd only been doing it for two months, and to get those kind of results and times was a surprise. I was definitely excited and thrilled about that.'
Track was suddenly very much in his mind.
Playing football, however, was still very much a priority. But after his senior football season he did give up basketball and put all his efforts into winter track and then his last spring track season.
Despite all his running success, Smith was still was determined to play football in college. Right until the Penn State track coaches came chasing after him and convinced him his college destiny was to run track for the Nittany Lions. And so it will be. For Smith, Penn State was the dream college and he can't wait to embark on the next phase of his track and field career.
Sometimes Smith does wonder where he and his brother got that sprinting ability.
"I think about it,' he said. "My dad swam and played tennis in high school out in Pittsburgh, but he never did track.'
With all his district and PIAA success, his favorite meet was at Franklin Field this year.
"Penn Relays,' he said. "It was a great atmosphere, I got to go down and enjoy it with my teammates, have fun and race.'
The Blazers placed second in their 4x400 relay heat, with Smith running one of the fastest high school splits with a 48.4. But it was the whole magical atmosphere of the Penn Relays that enthralled him.
"That was definitely more special because it was the Penn Relays,' he said. "It has so much history to it. A lot of teams were there. Being there was a great way to enjoy my spring season and go on to my future of track. I definitely thought about coming back, thought that next year I'll be out here running again. That time for the Nittany Lions.'
After all his years of playing football and basketball, total team sports, running track had to feel like a change. Team scores definitely do matter, but if your legs suddenly feel sluggish one day, nobody can sprint that 100 or 200 meters for you. It's not like when your having a bad shooting day on the courts or an injury is slowing you down on the football field somebody else can pick up the slack.
"You don't have to rely on anybody else and there's no one to blame but yourself,' Smith said. "The bad part is, there's not really a team-work aspect in track. I do love working with teammates and love getting the job done with them. There are definitely aspects in track that involve teamwork, working with the team to make the team better as a whole and to better yourself as a person.'
That team attitude made Smith a great leader for his Boone track and field team. Smith and standout high jumper and 400 runner Kenny Worthington, also a district double gold medalist and PIAA medalist, played key roles in leading the Boone track and field team to its best two seasons ever. That does mean a lot to him.
"It definitely does and it was bonus,' he said. "And I'm not just speaking for myself, I'm speaking for everybody else on the team. There was more of a Daniel Boone aspect than there was an individual aspect these past two years. Everyone came out and did what they had to do, everyone wanted to make everybody proud. We wanted to go out there and do it for the school and the community.'
This year, the Daniel Boone track and field team achieved its best finish at the Berks Conference Championships by placing third, then bettered two of the Berks teams that had finished of ahead of the Blazers at the district championships to finish third in District 3.
"Xavier is an outstanding leader,' said Boone boys head coach Russell Keith. "When your top athlete is also one of your hardest workers, it only makes the team better. He was an excellent role model for his teammates. On the track and off, he always presented himself with the highest integrity an athlete can possess. He is well respected by his teammates, coaches, and competitors. Xavier was always willing to do anything to help the team win, from running on relays to volunteering to do events that are out of his expertise.
"His success in the past two years has elevated Daniel Boone track and field to new heights. Xavier will go down in Daniel Boone history as one of the all-time best athletes ever at Daniel Boone and we are very proud of him.'
Matt Kade is the Blazers girls head track and field coach, but trains both the Blazers boys and girls in the sprints. Kade, also the Blazers boys soccer head coach, couldn't wait to get Smith on the track team.
"Having coached Xavier's brother in soccer and track, I knew the potential for a lot of speed was there,' Kade said. "What I didn't realize was how fast Xavier could become in such a short amount of time. He only came out for track and field as a junior and set three school records his first year.'
Nor did Kade expect he would be the great team leader.
"Xavier has the gift of being a positive role model and leader through example,' Kade said. "He makes the other athletes on the team work as hard as he does striving for success sometimes above their abilities. Once others started realizing how special his talents were, the attitude of the team shifted from sometimes lackadaisical workouts to pushing each other on a daily basis.
"Xavier, along with the rest of this year's senior class, has undoubtedly elevated Daniel Boone track to a higher level. We are now on the radar as a team that not only produces quality individuals but can work together to achieve team goals all the way up to the state level.'
For Smith this last Blazers season was a most memorable one.
"I enjoyed each moment of it, enjoyed spending time with my friends,' he said. "I leave with a lot of great memories. I would have liked to have the gold in the 100 and 200 at states,' he did admit with a smile.
Follow Rosemarie Ross on Twitter @RoseRoss31