Small Kicker Delivers Huge for Big Green Football

  • Dartmouth kicker David Smith. (Dartmouth College photograph)

  • Dartmouth College kicker David Smith pauses before attempting a field goal against New Hampshire during the Big Green's season opener. (Dartmouth College photograph - Mark Washburn)

  • Dartmouth College kicker David Smith (16) celebrates alongside teammate Alex McCrory after the Big Green's season-opening defeat of New Hampshire. (Dartmouth College pgotograph - Mark Washburn)

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, October 14, 2016





Hanover — The Dartmouth College football team entered this season with a clear need to strengthen its kicking game. The answer, somewhat ironically, has come from one of the squad’s smaller players.



David Smith is listed at 5-feet-11 and 175 pounds, but appears more slight when surrounded by teammates who can be nearly twice his weight and as tall as 6-7. Smith, however, has delivered an outsized performance and might have been the Big Green’s best player last week at Yale, when he kicked an extra point, field goals of 26 and 32 yards, knocked two kickoffs for touchbacks and showed pinpoint placement on two others.

Dartmouth hosts Towson University on Saturday.



“His focus and consistency is what earned him the spot,” head coach Buddy Teevens said of the junior, who is 4-of-5 on field-goal attempts and has made each of his 10 extra-point tries this fall. “He doesn’t have the leg to punch kickoffs out of the end zone every time, but it’s hard for a return team when (a kick) pins them between the numbers and the sideline.”



Like many of his teammates, Smith had wait before earning a starting role. An injury wiped out his freshman season, and last year he kicked off for part of the campaign. Starting field-goal kicker Alex Gakenheimer struggled in 2015, making only 36 percent of his attempts after an 80 percent success rate the year before. That created an open competition for the field-goal job once spring practice began.



On campus and taking classes for his sophomore summer, Smith made the most of the situation. He worked out four days a week, two hours at a time and kicked more than he ever had previously in June, July and August. It paid off in mid-September, when Teevens told him he’d be the starting kicker during the season opener against New Hampshire.



Smith missed his first field-goal attempt, from 37 yards, but made a 28-yarder to help beat the Wildcats and has held the job since. It comes with no guarantees of continued employment, but the Canadian native certainly strengthened his hold with his showing at Yale.



“Right now, I’m happy that it’s me, but you have to take it one kick at a time,” Smith said. “As college athletes, we’re expected to perform and it’s all about how you deal with successes and misses.”



One characteristic of Smith’s past that drew Teevens to him during the recruiting process was that the youngster had also been a basketball, soccer and rugby standout. Kicking’s pressure can be intense, so the coach reasons that the more times a prospect has faced a crucial kick, a big shot or a championship environment, the more likely he is to excel later on.



“He’s not the biggest guy on the block, but he was a basketball star and a high-level soccer player and he was very accurate and powerful with his kicks in high school,” Teevens said of the Montreal native, who attended the prestigious St. Paul’s School in Concord for two years before Dartmouth. “His coach down there said he was as good as he’s ever seen.”



That would be Craig Vandersea, who’s coached the St. Paul’s Big Red since 2008 and was a college coach for 13 years before moving to the prep school ranks. He recalls how Smith’s first kick during a live drill sailed over the track surrounding the St. Paul’s field and broke a window in the building beyond. Practice stopped for a minute while St. Paul’s players and coaches wrapped their minds around the new weapon in their midst.



“It was kind of our version of the shot heard around the world,” said Vandersea, recalling how the school’s cross country team would regularly stop its training runs to watch Smith in action. “We weren’t used to seeing people’s kicks even reach the track.”



Smith comes by at least some of his athletic talent through his father, Mark Smith, who was a member of Canada’s U21 national soccer team. David attended the private Selwyn House School, founded in 1908 to serve Montreal’s English-speaking elite, and grew up playing soccer, hockey and rugby. In eighth grade, he joined a football team as a receiver and defensive back and was also pressed into service as its kicker.



Smith, who speaks fluent French, played football into high school. Predecessors at Selwyn House had gone to St. Paul’s and enjoyed it, so Smith successfully pursued admittance to the institution, a producer of U.S. congressmen, senators and ambassadors along with high-profile authors and titans of business and industry.



Captain of St. Paul’s football and basketball teams, Smith was urged by Vandersea to see if he could use his strong right leg as a ticket to a college education. He attended several camps run by national kicking guru Chris Sailer, a former UCLA standout who annually ranks and places dozens of booters at NCAA Division I programs across the country.



“You really are among the best of the best,” Smith said, recalling how peers at kicking showcases in Las Vegas and Los Angeles now play for the likes of Alabama, Washington and Clemson. “It was exposure at its finest. There were 300 kickers in Vegas, and they clock and chart you and there’s two days of competitions.”



There was a chance of a walk-on slot at Northwestern, but Smith realized his landing zone was more likely to be down a level from the Football Bowl Subdivison. With that in mind, along with his longtime desire to attend a school with outstanding academics, he was receptive to Dartmouth’s advances.

When Teevens invited Smith up for an October 2013, meeting and offered an admissions slot, Smith accepted on the spot, but once in Hanover, he found his way blocked first by an incumbent kicker, Riley Lyons, and then by injury.



“Part of me said I could make a push for (the starting job), but I had a bit of a reality check,” Smith said. “I was never primarily a kicker until I got here and I probably wasn’t completely prepared for what the job entailed.”



Perhaps it was the increased workload that triggered a blood clot in Smith’s impact foot that fall. It produced a swollen ball on his instep that became painful enough he had to cease kicking midway through the season. Blood thinner medication, anti-inflammatory cream and a silicone bunion pad helped Smith get back into action the next semester, and by last season he was the backup punter and kicker. But still, he desired a larger role.



“I wanted to do everything I could to make myself a better kicker,” Smith said. “There’s a big jump from your sophomore to junior years. I started to see the guys I live with move into starting roles. I never really left campus this summer, other than for a short visit home.”

Smith is majoring in sociology modified with economics, and earlier this year was unanimously voted president of his fraternity, Gamma Delta Chi, which is primarily populated by his teammates. He’s served on various campus committees, is a strong student and during the winters plays on a scrimmage squad of men who oppose the Dartmouth women’s basketball team in practice.



Perhaps most notable is that Smith is as engaging and friendly as any player from Dartmouth’s football program during the last decade.



“The guys just love him because he’s a good person,” senior long snapper Graydon Peterson said. “We call him the Prime Minister because he will never brush you off and he’s always got your back.



“You want your quarterback to be consistent and to be able to trust him, on and off the field. It’s the same thing with your kicker.”



Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.