Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — There is no question for Anthony Smithson exactly what his role in Highland's triple option offense entails.
Smithson knows if the Rams succeed in moving the ball and scoring the points the team needs, he needs to make big plays quickly and he needs to make such plays in large quantities.
As far as Smithson is concerned, his coaches and teammates expect nothing less.
"They expect me to run it the way it should be ran," Smithson said. "Run first and then pass if we have to. And just run it good. Make plays when they come."
Smithson definitely has a knack for making plays. Since taking over as the starting quarterback in Week 6 against Stansbury, the junior has helped Highland's offense evolve into something equal parts potent and dangerous.
In just nine games, Smithson has completed 60-of-99 passes for 1,467 yards and 15 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 648 yards and eight touchdowns on 114 carries in that span.
Highland coach Brody Benson said that Smithson is the sort of player that fosters belief from his teammates. When he calls a play, they believe he is going to make that play work.
Generating such confidence has allowed him to progress as a team leader during the course of the season.
"You want the quarterback, obviously, to command your huddle," Benson said. "That's definitely happened over the past few weeks."
Smithson earned a shot at directing the offense after an injury to senior quarterback Colby Earl led to him earning the start at Stansbury. Smithson enjoyed a fantastic debut. He completed 6-of-7 passes for 149 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 61 yards and another TD on seven carries to lead the Rams to a 42-14 victory.
From there on, he has grown progressively more productive each week and has hit his peak during the playoffs.
Smithson had his best game as a passer when he threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns while completing 14-of-18 passes in a 35-21 first round victory over Box Elder. He followed up with his best rushing performance against Springville, when he rushed for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just nine carries in a 46-21 semifinal victory over the Red Devils.
Smithson feels like his ability to run and pass equally well is his greatest weapon against other teams. It works well with his ability to pick apart a defense and exploit whatever weakness he finds.
"I play defense as well, so I know what frustrates a defense," Smithson said. "If you're a quarterback and can run it — you can run all the away across the field and cut back — and make the defense tired, then that's a good thing. That's what I try to bring to the offense."
Benson said that Smithson's ability to change the direction of a game has had a major impact on how well the offense has performed since he moved into the starting lineup.
The junior, he said, has a habit of making it hard to game plan against him because you can't really zero in on one thing and shut that down.
"He has big play capabilities — both running the ball and throwing the ball," Benson said. "Right now, I think that's his biggest attribute. You can't really dial in on him. He's doing both really well right now."
Smithson has played his part in helping Highland return to the 4A championship game for the first time since 2006. And now with this potentially being the Rams last shot at claiming a 4A crown before moving down to 3A next year, he wants to make their 4A finale memorable.
"I've never been to a championship," Smithson said. "This is my first one I'm going to be too. All of us — the coaching staff, the fans and the team — really want this win."