2012 Fall Preview: Smallidge is Park football team's do-it-all tool
Dylan Smallidge prefers to have the football in his hands.
The senior running back carries the ball out of the backfield, catches passes, return kicks and may even throw a pass or two now and then. This year, he's also going to play defense. He's Park's Swiss army knife -- a do-it-all tool.
"I enjoy it a lot," Smallidge said. "I've tried to improve in every area since I was a sophomore. I feel like the people who come to play can make an impact on offense, defense and special teams - all three aspects of football."
Smallidge had 1,385 all-purpose yards in 2011 -- the most in the Suburban East Conference by a non-quarterback. He broke out as a sophomore, leading the Wolfpack in rushing with 483 yards and four touchdowns on 98 carries. On Homecoming that year, a 40-21 loss to White Bear Lake, Smallidge showed what he could do, running for 147 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries. Last season, Smallidge totaled 891 rushing yards, 256 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.
Keith Badger, one of the top athletes in Park history, is the Wolfpack's varsity running backs coach. Badger, a 2005 Park graduate, was an All-Conference quarterback, an All-State sprinter and a three-sport standout for the Wolfpack before going on to play football at the University of St. Thomas.
"Dylan is a tremendously driven athlete," Badger, 25, said. "I think he knows what he wants and sets very high goals for himself. He's one of those athletes that works hard to make the people around him better, not just himself."
Badger said Smallidge is "tremendously coachable."
"He listens to everything any of us say to him and is very receptive to feedback," Badger said. "He knows that we all want to make him better. That's his biggest asset. Secondly, he's tremendously athletic."
Smallidge and teammate Irving Gutierrez are the two fastest runners at Park. The two sprinters helped Park win the 400-meter relay state championship last track season. Badger said he hasn't raced Smallidge yet.
"He challenges me every day, but we haven't gotten a chance to do it yet," Badger said. "I don't know if I'd be able to get him sprinting anymore, he's pretty quick."
With the benefit of a year in Park's new training program, and with the same offense for a second-straight season, Smallidge hopes to go over 1,000 yards rushing this fall.
"That'd be really great to see that on the stats," Smallidge said. "That'd be a great credit to the offensive line and the receivers blocking up the field. That'd be a great accomplishment. It'd really be a team thing. You need those 10 other guys on the field to achieve goals like that."
However, a goal that's more important to Smallidge are wins on the field.
He and the rest of the team's seniors, have yet to know what winning a varsity game feels like. The Wolfpack is on a 20-game losing streak heading into 2012. Park is now 1-26 since the start of 2009 season with its last win on Friday, Oct. 9, 2009, a 27-25 Homecoming victory over East Ridge.
"My hope is for the Class of 2013 to leave a mark," Smallidge said. "We want to be a good starting point and take off spot that the team can improve on in the future. It's very important to us to get some wins. It's the No. 1 priority -- it always has been and always will be. But we're in a crucial situation here. We will win, we will."
One thing that should help Smallidge in 2012 is an increase in speed and strength this season. He's not the biggest back at 5'10" and 170 pounds, but he's larger than he was a year ago when he put up more than 1,300 yards of offense.
"I'm definitely not the biggest guy, but I've gotten bigger," Smallidge said. "I think I was pretty hard to bring down before. Now I'm a few steps faster and 10 pounds heavier. That's going to make me that much harder to bring down."
Something else that's likely to be a good thing for the Wolfpack is some continuity throughout the coaching staff and the offensive schemes. This year is Park's second under head coach Darin Glazier, who went to a "multiple-formation offense" in his first season. Before Glazier took over, previous Park head coach Doug Ekmark ran a power running game with "the veer" for 25 of his 26 years. After being productive for decades, "the veer" began to fail to yield results. In Ekmark's final season, Park tried to instill a double-wing attack. But that didn't boost productivity. Park scored 88 points in its nine games in 2010 and was shut out three times. Last year, Park put up 2,508 yards of total offense and scored nearly 15 points per game.
"For the seniors, ever since eighth grade, we've had to learn a new offense every year," Smallidge said. "Just coming back and running the same offense for the second year, we're really making a lot of progress. We're doing the little things better and perfecting the offense rather than learning something totally new. I think we took a big step there."
Under Glazier, Park uses a zone blocking scheme, where the offensive linemen block an area rather than a specific defensive player.
"It's a little different. We make reads in the backfield based on where the linemen are going," said Badger, who coached at Tartan under Glazier before joining the Wolfpack. "Dylan has picked up on that the most this past year. He has very good vision when he gets to the line of scrimmage and can anticipate where the hole is going to open even before it happens. This year we are way ahead of where we were a year ago."
Smallidge likes what he's seen from his offensive line, which is led by Alex Schoer, a team captain who also plays on the defensive line.
"I respect them and they respect me. They're a great group of guys," he said. "They worked really hard with coach (Mark) Sikich and coach (Tim) Walton. They put a lot of time in and improved a lot. We have some depth there too. I feel totally confident running behind those guys."
Park lost starting quarterback Kyle Fritz and No. 1 receiver D'Monte Farley to graduation last spring. Park had 1,388 yards passing during the regular season last year -- the third most in the Suburban East.
"Losing Fritz and D'Monte is a big blow to any offense, but the guys we have coming up this year have stepped up their game," Badger said. "They know what it takes to fill those spots. They're working very hard. I have no doubt that this year's offense is going to put just as many points on the board as last year."
In addition to Smallidge at running back and Gutierrez at receiver, other key contributors to the Park offense are expected to include: senior wide receiver Mitch Zurn, junior running back David Giadyu and senior quarterback J.T. Bickel. The defense will likely be anchored by senior linebacker Erik Black, a team captain, junior defensive end Cody Linssen and defensive back Jordan Ijomah, with Gutierrez, Smallidge, Zurn and Giadyu playing both ways.
Like Badger, Smallidge said he too feels good about the team this year -- he's confident and he believes in his teammates.
"We have a lot of explosiveness," he said. "There's going to be some fireworks on the field this year, just like there was last year."