Hempfield football player in tune with two dreams
Just about every high school football player dreams of being on the field of a professional stadium, 60,000 pairs of eyes glued to his every move.
Hempfield Area senior defensive end Mike Smith is no exception. He would love to make the kind of game-saving tackle that drives a crowd into a frenzy.
A few weeks ago, Smith came close to realizing that dream. Sort of.
He was on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium during a recent Buffalo Bills game. Every eye was trained on him. And, yes, he felt the urge to tackle someone.
But he didn't. Trombone players just aren't supposed to do that kind of thing.
Smith, a member of the Spartans football team who did double duty this season as a member of the high school marching band, was on the field at halftime, performing a trombone solo to the Beatles hit, "I Saw Her Standing There."
"It gave me a big head rush," said Smith, who fills his days after school between football and band practice. "My entire body was filled with adrenaline. Being on a pro football field, my first thought was to go out and tackle someone, but I was carrying the trombone."
Was he nervous• Wouldn't you be?
"I love challenges. I never back down from something like that," Smith said. "I'm somewhat of a perfectionist and it went very well, better than I expected.
"In practice, I wasn't nailing the song the way I wanted, but on the field it all came together."
Students who take part in more than one extra-curricular activity may be the norm, but Smith's twin endeavors this year were almost Ripleyesque.
"My football teammates joke with me," said the 6-foot-2, 230-pound defensive end with a laugh. "When we were on the field and the band started playing something, someone would ask me what song they were playing
"You always hear about football players disliking the band, but the players tell me if I can do it, more power to me."
Band members were equally supportive of his playing football, he said. "My friends in the band were a little more supportive of a football player being among their ranks."
Smith's halftime performance at the Bills game was not his first solo. He stood on the 45-yard line and played his trombone at the Spartans' home opener this season. It was likely a memorable performance for those in the stands, even if they didn't know Smith's name. He stood out because he played his trombone while still in his number 84 football uniform, with only the helmet missing.
Smith, who transferred from Greensburg Salem in the middle of his junior year, began his football and music careers at virtually the same time, when he was in elementary school.
His introduction to the trombone was almost accidental. His original music teacher handed him one because of his "long arms," he said. Smith took to it right away, though, using only an instruction book to teach himself to play. He's never had a private lesson.
In the years since, he's grown to appreciate the differences between football and music.
"I like both," he said. "I'm a physical person, but my music allows me to express my wide range of emotions."
This past season was Smith's first with the Spartan football team. Before school started, he practiced with the band for an hour, then switched to practicing with the defensive team for an hour. Both programs are demanding on their own; for Smith, splitting his time between the two meant having to put in extra time to learn the band's often-complex marching drills.
"That extra effort was worth it," though, he said, and his coaches agreed.
"Mike is an excellent trombone player and a great marcher," said Dr. Roderick Booker, Hempfield's band director. "When the football team left the field for halftime, he ran and grabbed his trombone and got in line. He is also a good singer (in the Jazz Rock Ensemble). He is a hard worker and a credit to the program. We're proud of him."
Lest you think the football team, band and Jazz Rock Ensemble take up all Smith's time, know that he also sings bass in the Hempfield chorus and is involved in the school's musical theater. And he still maintains a 3.5 grade-point-average in the classroom.
Football season is over, and with it likely went Smith's chance to make a game-saving tackle. His music career is far from finished, though. He plans to major in music at Clarion University.
And after that?
"Someday I want to be a band director for a Pennsylvania high school," he said.
He probably just won't go to practice in his football uniform next time around.