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His Name Fits, So Conan Wears It Well : Morse: Soft-spoken Smith sets the tone for the top-ranked Tigers with his physical play.

December 10, 1992|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — The name is Smith, but he is not your average Conan.

Oh, it's easy to make the obvious connection with the Arnold Schwarzenegger character, Conan the Barbarian. You watch Conan Smith run over people with the ball--and watch him run over people when he doesn't have the ball--and you swear he must be wearing armor instead of football pads.

But when the game ends and Smith slips off the shoulder pads, he's a 5-11, 185-pound man-child. He is soft-spoken by nature, a bit shy, a leader by example. He has designs on becoming an architect, but what he's done at Morse is build a legacy.

He was a freshman when he joined the varsity for the 1989 San Diego Section playoffs, and the Tigers finished second. He became the starting fullback as a sophomore on a team that won the championship and was heralded by many as the greatest football team the county has produced. He became a starter on defense as a junior, and the Tigers reached the semifinals.

Now, as the senior, the team leader by quiet example, Smith is set to etch a place in history for this team.

His team.

"He's been the heart and soul of our ballclub for a couple of years," Morse Coach John Shacklett said. "He's probably the best athlete we've ever had at that position. He's got great hands, great balance, great determination."

And Shacklett should know something about talent at Morse. He has won 171 games since 1971. And if he has high praise for Smith, the fullback probably deserves it.

Smith has been part of some big-time backfields at Morse, blocking for Teddy Lawrence, and twins Gary and Cary Taylor. He rushed 165 times this season for 1,295 yards and 21 touchdowns against the toughest schedule Shacklett could find. And the Tigers are undefeated, 13-0.

He also plays defense, starting at weak safety, and shares the team lead with four interceptions. Morse's defense allowed only 6.5 points per game this season, and Smith said the unit is better than the one that limited high-powered Orange Glen to seven points in a 28-7 championship victory in 1990.

As if that's not enough, Smith averaged 38 yards per punt and is a blocker on the extra-point unit.

"I like (offense and defense) both," Smith said. "I'm really known for running the ball, not for my defense. But I like hitting people. When you get that real good hit, you feel real good because everyone can see it and the next day they'll be talking about it."

There is some barbarian there, after all.

"I kind of take that Conan the Barbarian stuff as a compliment," Smith said. "I don't mind it. I kind of lived up to the name on the field with the way I ran--not throwing many moves, just running over people.

"I like the physical nature of the game. That's the main part of the sport--contact. That's what most of the guys on the team and I look for, the contact."

But he's not the same off the field.

He can be a homebody who like to hang around the house. He enjoys movies--Steven Seagal and Schwarzenegger are his favorites--with his girlfriend, Teea Honor.

"Meeting him the first time, you're looking for someone with fire in his eyes," Shacklett said. "And you just don't get that. He really transforms once he gets on the football field. He has a very focused intensity."

Shacklett said Smith is one of the players the Tigers look to for leadership.

"He does it by example," Shacklett said. "He knocks the (stuffing) out of people. He does everything well on the field. He gives everything to the team."

In many ways, he exemplifies the Morse spirit. He is hard-nosed, unwilling to go down. He is 59-5, including his freshman season, as a football player at Morse. Four losses came last year, and three came immediately after quarterback Cary Taylor was injured in midseason.

He says he is not a good loser.

"I can take it, but I would rather win," Smith said. "I know that I don't like it. That's one thing I don't like to do, lose."

He's the type of ball player that has attracted the attention of Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado State and San Diego State, teams that want to add winners to their programs know they can find one in Smith.

They don't need to provide the armor.

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