In My Opinion

Mario Smith poised to continue Monsignor Pace football tradition

If you’ve followed high school football for any length of time, you know that Monsignor Pace is always in the playoff mix. Last year, the Spartans had to sit home for only the second time in 18 years, and it didn’t sit well.

Always stocked with outstanding student-athletes, the Spartans looked to move on after finishing third in the district and losing coach Alvin Slaughter after the 2011 season.

With several candidates from all over interested in the vacant position, the school didn’t have to search far when Mario Smith was elevated from his assistant coaching position to take over his alma mater. It was a job that the one-time Kansas State standout defensive back was ready for.

“While it’s a new head coach by name, the objective never stops being the same,” Smith said. “This program has always been about hard work and being in better shape than the opposition. Nothing changes.”

Two years ago, the Spartans were sitting on top of the district — losing only to eventual state runner-up University School. Last season, competing in a district with 4A state runner-up Booker T. Washington, Gulliver Prep and Edison, the Spartans never got untracked.

So, as they head into the season, what will turn things around for this program? Is it a group of veteran players in a senior class, led by Northwestern University linebacker commit Anthony Walker? Could it be a group of 2014 and 2015 rising stars?

“It will be a combination of things,” Smith said. “This summer proved to everyone on this team that if you put in the effort, things would change. We have already had two players pledge their colleges with many others getting ready to do the same.”

In addition to the 6-1, 220-pound Walker, an All-State selection a year ago, the senior class includes Northern Illinois commit Robert Jones (LB, 6-1, 205), Western Michigan-bound defensive back/receiver Logan Oce (5-11, 180) as well as offensive linemen Steven Bridges, (5-10, 220) and Nick Rebull (6-3, 270) as well as athletic Guy Lemonier, Jamar Simpkins, versatile defensive standout Robert Quiro, Pines Charter quarterback transfer Benton Voke and promising St. Thomas running back transfer Garrett Jones.

“We need that senior class to be able to lead,” Smith said. “I feel we have enough talent in our underclass, but we need that leadership and experience for them to play off of.”

The Spartans will be loaded with potential game-breaking talent in the junior class with receivers Malcolm Anderson (5-8, 160), Henderson “Prince” Gray (5-10, 175), Marquis Hooks (6-0, 170) and Leondre Hughes (5-9, 160).

“Best group of young kids I have ever coached,” Smith said. “All four can run and catch the ball. If they play as hard as they have worked this spring and summer, everyone will see some great things.”

Chaminade-Madonna transfer quarterback Kelly Benson (6-0, 195) is also very special — as are defensive backs Stanley Barnwell (6-1, 170) and Malik Kearse (6-1, 180) and defenseive lineman Frederick Jones, a 6-1, 250-pounder.

The Spartans are also in great hands for the future with 2015 defensive tackle Sage Lewis (6-0, 220), Smith’s son, Damario, a 5-10, 155-pound linebacker, and Class of 2016 receiver Tony Taylor — one of the elite youth football prospects last year.

We are always looking to help promote our area recruits for the current Class of 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. All you have to do is send a DVD and information about the athlete to: Larry Blustein, P.O. Box 3181, Hallandale Beach, Fl. 33009.

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