Celebrating unsung gridiron heroes

Published 1:31 pm Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Most football teams have certain go-to players, ones who jump out to spectators and coaches alike. These players are vital to the success of their teams and can be a force that strengthens the team and lifts it during difficult times.

There are also less obvious players most football teams have that serve a similar function. They may not grab the headlines, but they are integral to making the team work the way it is supposed to.

One of these unsung heroes for Central High School’s varsity team is senior Khalil Watson.

“He just started playing last year,” Chargers Head Coach Will Thomas said.

Watson said it was Thomas who motivated him to do it.

“He was like, ‘You should come out, man,’ and I was like, ‘Alright, I will,’ and that pretty much motivated me,” Watson said. “I just wanted to do something I’d never tried.”

Mark Smith


In doing so, he discovered the bond teams members have with each other.

“I would say the team is already family, but I feel like I’m a good addition to that part of the team, the spirit of the team,” he said. “And I’d say I bring some skill to the team myself.”

His primary positions are cornerback and running back, and he makes a big impact on the Chargers in between games.

In practice, “he’s a scout team player,” Thomas said.

His job is to give his teammates a preview of what they will be up against in the next game by learning how the opposing team operates and playing the role of a member of that team during practice.

It is a job Watson said he takes pride in because “it helps gauge the team’s skills, anyone on it, to help coaches scout who has the best potential where.”

Thomas estimated Watson as being 5-feet 8-inches tall and around 150 pounds. He said Watson is a hard worker in the weight room and a consistent help at practice, always asking what he can do.

Watson said it’s the team that motivates him to give his all.

“It’s just being a Charger — it motivates me so much,” he said.

Kenston Forest School has a small team this year of fewer than 20 players, but has good size on the line, bolstered by the arrival this year of senior Mark Smith.

Kavaliers Head Coach Bart Bellairs said Smith is 6-feet 3-inches tall and weighs around 260 pounds, but he brings more than just size to the team.

“He works extremely hard,” Bellairs said. “Perseverance has got to be his middle name because he’s been through so much in his personal life. So, we’re really excited to have him.”

Smith, 17, has been in foster care for the past seven years, during which he has been in seven different homes.

People, children in particular, thrive on consistency and stability in the home, but Smith has developed a toughness in the face of loss and change that has helped him be strong for his teammates and his team.

“It really does help out, because I dream of going to college because nobody in my family has ever gone to college,” he said. “And I refuse to be one of the kids who has been taken over by the system, and once they age out, they go back to wherever they came from and then go into selling drugs or a life of crime.”

Smith’s joining the Kavaliers has been an encouragement to Bellairs and the school.

“He also gives us a new inspiration that we’ve got new kids coming into the program, that we’re doing something right that attracts the kids wanting to come over,” Bellairs said. “It’s a family atmosphere.”

Smith said what motivates him to provide a maximum effort on the field is a young man he once knew, Benjamin Graessle, who was murdered at the age of 20. “He was really inspirational to me, and he was my role model, and that’s why I got really big into football,” Smith said.