Grizzly alum plays on at Idaho State despite pandemic

Idaho State University linebacker Kennon Smith, as seen in his official 2020 player photo. Smith was allowed to return this year to play for Idaho State, due to disruptions caused by COVID-19.

PAYETTE COUNTY — No matter where people’s careers take them, their experiences in the places they come from often influence how far they go. This is the case for Idaho State University football player Kennon Smith, an alum of Fruitland High School from the class of 2016.

In a Zoom interview on Wednesday, Smith shared how he first got into football through experience in his neighborhood.

“When I was super little I lived with my grandparents, me and my mom did … We lived outside of town,” said Smith. “I would take a football and I would throw it on the roof … I was short back then, so I couldn’t see where the ball was coming from. It would fall off the roof and I would just try and sprint to catch it off the roof.”

Smith said that kind of exercise helped prepare him to begin playing regular football when he entered the fourth grade. From there, he found his way onto the Fruitland High football team where he played varsity for his four years there.

“It was fun; It was everything I wanted it to be,” Smith recalled. “Back then, we were a powerhouse kind of a dynasty … There was pressure I guess you could say, but it wasn’t anything crazy. It’s kind of the expectation that you showed up, went to work and tried to be the next best team.”

Regardless of the pressure on the field, Smith said family members enjoyed supporting him on the sidelines.

“That was just what I wanted to do, I love sports. I was like any other kid, that’s all I wanted to do,” said Smith. “Today, I feel like kids probably love to be inside playing video games, watching TV. Back then, that’s [football] all we did.”

He noted that was the same influence many of his teammates felt.

“We all kinda lived in the same neighborhood, a group of us probably within a half a mile, so if you weren’t playing basketball somewhere you were playing catch somewhere else. You were always doing something.”

Smith stated that his football experience is what led him to going to college.

“That was probably the only way I was going to college, was because of football,” he said. 

Smith graduated from Idaho State in 2020, but due to COVID-19 was allowed to come back to the football team this season to finish up his final season as a “COVID senior,” as he explained.

“They gave us an extra year of football,” said Smith. “Technically this all, whether you play in the spring or the fall, doesn’t affect your eligibility. We get to come back, essentially, next fall and that’ll be our ‘senior’ year.” 

Smith holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Sports Management, and is working on another degree in Psychology. However, he remains uncertain where his career path takes him from here.

“I’m planning on just going with the flow, trying to soak up everything,” he said. 

Smith said he wasn’t immediately planning to return to Fruitland for his career, but was open to returning further down the road

“Maybe when I’m a lot older, but right now it’s not in the cards,” he said, adding he intends to first find out what the rest of the world has to offer him.  

Roger Cooper, defensive coordinator for Idaho State, said in a statement to the newspaper Thursday that Smith stood out not just because of his stature but also his capabilities.

“He was a big, oversized running back. His twitchiness and his athletic ability and his speed, it was perfect for us,” said Cooper. “I knew he would be a running back, but I knew he’d be a great linebacker.”

Cooper said Smith’s strengths also include how knowledgable he is about the game.

“He does a great job understanding schematically what we want out of that position.”

Cooper noted that while initially Smith was one of the quieter players on the team, football has allowed him to be open to others and find his calling.

“I’ve seen him grow as a person through football and become more outspoken. He’s a very serious guy, so it’s great to see him with the guys … It’s been fun to coach him.”

According to Smith’s current season statistics, he achieved several season highs in defense playing against University of California-Davis on March 27, including four tackles, a sack and an interception. 

Smith says he hopes to be known for being someone others can rely on.

“That’s all you really can be,” he said.

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