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Junior wideout to play key role for Apollo-Ridge opposite Tipton

| Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, 11:21 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Apollo-Ridge's Alex Smith gains speed during a scrimmage against Burrell on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, at Apollo-Ridge High School.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Apollo-Ridge wide receiver Alex Smith hopes to recover from an ankle injury suffered on the first day of practice on Monday, August 12, 2013.

When wide receiver Alex Smith catches a touchdown pass, his celebrations often are brief.

But there's a reason for that.

“I have to get back on defense so we can get the ball and can score again,” said Smith, who will be a junior at Apollo-Ridge.

Smith is an all-business athlete who tries to keep things simple. Make the play and move on to the next one; enjoy the benefits only when the game's over.

He once again will be a key, two-way contributor on a team that has the potential for a fast-paced, highlight-reel season.

“We are extremely fortunate to have him on this team,” Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba said. “His future and our success are closely tied. He is one of the athletes on a very talented team that has plans on building something special at Apollo-Ridge.”

Smith and junior teammate Tre Tipton make up one of the most dangerous pass-catching tandems in Class A. But Smith lurks in Tipton's shadow — a role that he doesn't mind.

“He is usually my go-to receiver,” senior quarterback Jesse Zelonka said of Smith.

The team knows Tipton, a Division I prospect, is readily going to draw double- and triple-teams. It's the 6-foot-1, 165-pound Smith who ends up the recipient of big plays with the defense distracted.

“I'm the other option,” Smith said proudly.

In basketball, Tipton kicks the ball out to Smith on the wing. But he also helps him get touches in football.

Smith and Tipton both attended early grade school at Kiski Area before changing districts.

“Me and Tre have been friends since the second grade,” Smith said. “We have always battled to see who could score more points and score more touchdowns.”

Smith tweaked his ankle in the first day of camp, but said he's expected to return to practice next week.

Smith, who didn't take up football until the seventh grade, considers himself a deep threat and the numbers agree. Last season, he averaged 23.2 yards per catch. He grabbed 23 receptions for 534 yards and seven touchdowns.

“He's only a junior but he's played a ton of football for us and has made some very pivotal plays for us,” Skiba said. “He possesses a great combination of speed and explosiveness and gives us a one-two punch at receiver that many teams would love to have.”

Smith, who also plays free safety and punts, held his own against Class AAAA teams in seven-on-seven passing scrimmages this summer.

“At the Pitt Passing Camp, Alex was our top receiver and dominated some big WPIAL teams' defensive backs,” Skiba said. “During the second day of the camp, Alex tried to gut out an ankle injury and with him being limited we struggled as an offense.”

Said Smith: “We gave some bigger teams a run for their money.”

And the team could cash in this season with a host of key players back.

Apollo-Ridge (6-4) pushed for the Class A Eastern Conference title last season, finishing tied for second with Springdale and a game behind North Catholic, a team garnering more preseason attention than Apollo-Ridge.

“I am hoping to do more to help us,” Smith said. “We're all building as a team and family.

“We want revenge on North Catholic. We're ready for them.”

Apollo-Ridge travels to North Catholic on opening night, Aug. 30.

Smith knows the support will be there from a community yearning for football success again.

“Two years ago, nobody followed us on the road,” Smith said. “There was hardly anyone in the stands. Last year, we had big turnouts. It helps to see all those fans out there.”

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