Story by Michael Minnich- The Exponent Telegram
FAIRMONT, W.Va. (WV News) — The Fairmont Senior football program has been an assembly line for college talent in recent years, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
Darius Stills, Dante Stills and Zach Frazier have not only played at the Division 1 level at West Virginia University, but have excelled, earning all-Big 12 honors.
Polar Bears coach Nick Bartic has seen them all, and he says Miami (Ohio) signee Eric Smith is on the same level.
“We’ve had a special group of linemen come through here and he’s right in that mix,” Bartic said. “These past six weeks, he has looked like the man. Everything that you expect him to be, he’s been there. He’s been awesome on both sides of the ball.”
Smith is the 2021 recipient of the Stydahar Award as the state’s top lineman, joining Frazier (2019) and Chad Wable (1992, when it was called the Ken Hunt Award) on the list of Polar Bears.
The honor is named for former Shinnston High, WVU and Chicago Bears lineman and Los Angeles Rams and Chicago Cardinals coach Joe Stydahar, the first West Virginia native drafted to the NFL (sixth overall in 1936) when selected by George Halas’s Bears.
The senior anchored Fairmont Senior’s line during the Polar Bears’ run as the No. 16 seed to a second consecutive Class AA state title.
The Polar Bears were severely tested along the journey, finishing the regular season with a 5-4 mark that included wins over Class AA quarterfinalists North Marion and Robert C. Byrd.
Fairmont Senior’s losses were to Linsly, Bridgeport (undefeated in the regular season and Class AAA semifinalists), University (also undefeated in the regular season and Class AAA quarterfinalists) and Spring Valley (Class AAA quarterfinalists and the only team to beat AAA state champion Martinsburg this year).
Then, in the first round of the playoffs, Fairmont Senior beat top seed and undefeated Herbert Hoover, 30-28, as Smith recorded nine tackles and two sacks.
Fairmont Senior then needed a kickoff return by Dylan Ours to win their rematch with RCB, 33-28.
Critical to that victory was the job Smith and his teammates did on defense, holding all-state running back Jeremiah King to just 39 yards on 20 carries.
After a 41-7 blowout at Poca in the semifinals, Smith and his linemates cleared the way for Germaine Lewis to rush for 114 yards and two of the Polar Bears’ three touchdowns in a 21-12 championship victory over Independence.
“This year was definitely my best year,” Smith said. “(When I came here), I was a wide receiver. My coaches were like, ‘I’m telling you, you’ll go DI if you become a lineman. After every practice, coaches were giving me either donuts, just something to eat, chocolate milk everyday, they made sure to put weight on me. I’m really thankful for that because they put me where I’m going today.”
Smith has also been selected as a first-team all-state and all-Big 10 player on the offensive line.
Now, it’s on to Miami (Ohio) for the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Polar Bear as he signed his letter of intent last week.
He sees the same DNA in the Redhawks’ program that allowed his high school team to be successful.
“A winning program,” Smith said. “The way the coaches are with the players, it’s like a family bond, it’s like another dad, it felt great.”
Smith also had offers from the likes of Purdue, Central Michigan, Dartmouth, Kent State, Marshall, Army, Air Force, Appalachian State and Massachusetts.
“Through the whole recruiting process, they talked to me almost everyday — checking up on me, how my day was,” Smith said of Miami (Ohio). “Usually, honestly, it wasn’t about football. They check on me, see what I ate that day, what I was doing in school, making sure I got to classes and everything like that, just checking on me basically.”
Smith will be honored during the 75th annual Victory Awards Dinner on May 1 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.