Travis Smith had planned on signing a national letter of intent with Toledo until he received a message from Wake Forest on Facebook about seven weeks ago.
Smith is the senior quarterback at four-time defending Division 6 state champion Ithaca, a small community just west of US-127 with the nicest high school football facility this side of Texas — thanks in large part to Smith’s grandfather.
As he began reading the message, Smith couldn’t figure out why he would be receiving a recruiting pitch from a coach at Wake Forest.
“I was confused at first because I didn’t really realize that the coaching staff at Wake Forest was the Bowling Green coaching staff,” he said. “When I learned it was Bowling Green’s coaches, I realized what was going on.”
The new staff was scrambling when it came to the most important position on the field.
Dave Clawson left Bowling Green to take over the Wake Forest program in mid-December and took several assistants with him, including offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero.
The Wake Forest coaches offered Smith a scholarship before he visited the school, which he fell in love with the minute he arrived in Winston-Salem, N.C.
You know all of the snow that has been piling up around here these past few months? Not so much in North Carolina.
But the reason Smith signed with Wake Forest on Wednesday morning had little to do with the weather.
Smith already liked the coaches and spent a lot of his visit talking to the current players about how they view the new guys in charge.
“They didn’t get recruited by them or anything and kind of just got stuck with them, and they already love those coaches and are buying into it,” Smith said. “They told me they’re working twice as hard as they ever did with their old coaching staff. It really shows how good those coaches are to go into a new place with players they never even met and get them to accept what you want them to do.”
Wake Forest coaches want Smith to play quarterback — and maybe right away.
Smith, 6-feet-2, 193 pounds, checked out the depth chart and saw only one returning quarterback — and he played in only two games last season.
“They’re actually getting me pieces of the playbook to start learning as soon as I sign,” Smith said. “And a workout regimen I can start doing to get ready for this summer to compete with the other guys that will be there.”
Also signing with Wake Forest was 6-1, 207-pound John Wolford of Bishop Kenny in Jacksonville, Fla., who had committed to East Carolina and threw for 3,317 yards and 38 touchdowns last season. He set five state records in his career.
Smith’s credentials aren’t too bad, either. He passed for 3,278 yards and 42 TDs as a senior, giving him a state-record 104 career TD passes.
His signing made me recall a 2007 signing-day conversation I had with Holland Christian’s Kirk Cousins, who signed with Michigan State. Unlike many kids who signed letters of intent, Cousins was aware of how difficult it would be for him to play at MSU.
“Quarterback is a different deal,” Cousins said. “You can be the fifth-best offensive lineman and still start. You can be the eighth-best offensive lineman and be in the rotation. If you’re the fourth- or fifth-best quarterback, you’re not going to play — ever.”
Smith knows Cousins and understands the letter he signed Wednesday guarantees him nothing but an opportunity.
“They can bring in as many guys as they want,” Smith said. “I’m just going to work as hard as I can to be the guy there.”
That has worked so far for Smith, who has something going for him that no other player can match, much less top.
“When we first got down there,” he said, “they announced all the recruits that were there, and the first thing they said was: ‘Travis Smith, he’s never lost a game in high school.’ “
Can’t wait to see what plans Smith’s grandfather has for Wake Forest’s stadium.