Emerson Smith (left) provides tight coverage on a teammate during a GW Graham training camp practice.

Emerson Smith (left) provides tight coverage on a teammate during a GW Graham training camp practice.

Emerson Smith a two-way standout for Grizz

A dynamic receiver and a hard-hitting defensive back, Emerson Smith is a core player for a championship caliber crew.

One of the brightest stars on the GW Graham football team is a guy who’s good at flying under the radar.

Emerson Smith finds his way into the spotlight on occasion — a touchdown run on a jet sweep in the 2013 AA junior varsity provincial championship got him some press.

But he keeps his head down most of the time, letting his on-field exploits do the talking.

This season, as his Grizzlies prepare for a run at the AA varsity title, Emerson figures to make an impact on both sides of the ball.

If GWG does end up at BC Place in November, he’ll play a big role.

“Emerson is an amazing offensive weapon, and in my eyes he is one of the top five receivers in the province,” says Grizzlies offensive coordinator Adam Smith. “He has amazing hands and he’s great in the air with the 50/50 balls.”

“His major strength that lots of good receivers do not have is his route running. He runs amazing routes to get himself open and the other thing I love about him is after he catches the ball he is hard to bring down.”

Ask Emerson and he’ll tell you he takes a lot of pride in route running.

“I’m not the fastest guy in the world, so that’s what I work on the most,” he says.

Emerson might also surprise you when he says he actually prefers playing defence.

Specifically defensive back.

“It always feels good to move the ball and score touchdowns, but I prefer DB because I like to hit people,” he says with a grin. “It’s more of an aggressive position.”

“Hitting is definitely my favourite part of football. Even getting hit, it hurts but it’s kind of fun. It wakes you up and gets you into the game.”

On the GWG offence, Emerson is one of many weapons.

Every year the team seems to be 17 deep in fast and physical running backs.

Emerson leads a similarly deep group of pass catchers catching balls from rocket-armed quarterback Gabe Olivares.

But the Grade 12 student says the best part of the Grizzly offence is the part that gets the least notice.

“I think they’re the best offensive line in the province, in AA or AAA,” Emerson says of GWG’s dominant group of road pavers. “They’re all great players and they’re all physical freaks.”

“Then you’ve got Gabe behind them, and he delivers probably the best ball I’ve ever seen,” he continues. “He’s smart. He reads defences well and he’s a very good team leader.”

Emerson hopes his teammates would also describe him as a leader.

He tries to set a good example, bringing a lunch-bucket approach to the field.

“I try to talk to everyone on the team, get along with them and encourage them,” he adds. “There’s a few guys I haven’t developed that relationship with yet, but that’ll come eventually.”

Flip to the other side of the ball and Emerson’s defensive coordinator the last three years, Jason Campbell, talks about how well the teenager thinks the game.

“Emerson has a high football IQ, understands situational football, has a nose for the ball in pass situations and fearlessly attacks ball carriers in run situations,” Campbell says. “He could play safety, cornerback or outside linebacker for us.”

“Hopefully a wide receiver I’m covering would say I’m physical, because I like to press a lot,” Emerson says when asked to self-scout. “Aggressive right off the line is how I like to play.”

GWG’s defence, like the offence, is stacked with talent. Opponents may come into the season worrying about how to slow down the Grizzly O.

By season’s end, Emerson thinks they’ll be pulling their hair out trying to figure out how to beat the D.

“We’re going to have a very good offence but by the end of the season I think we’ll have an even better defence,” he notes. “Everyone is a really high calibre player. A lot of our two-way guys like myself and Jordan (Breuker) lean towards the defensive side of the ball and I think we’ll be a little better at that.”

Offseason rankings have put the Grizzlies at or near the top of the heap.

Province writer Howard Tsumara revealed his Big Five this week, putting GWG third behind Nanaimo’s John Barsby Bulldogs and Chase Claypool’s Abbotsford  Panthers.

Emerson calls the Abbotsford rivalry special, says most of the guys on his team have been playing against their Fraser Valley foes since atom and will have an Oct. 30 road game circled on their schedule.

“Having Abby ranked ahead of us helps to humble us and also puts a big chip on our shoulder,” he says. “But I expect every team to be good and I don’t expect us to take any opponent for granted. We’ve done that before and lost to teams that weren’t that good.”

Time’s flown by for Smith and many of his teammates. Seems yesterday they were precocious kids starting a brand new high school football program.

Now, Emerson’s getting ready to graduate.

“Aside from a few kids who are new, I’ve been playing with most of these guys since I was eight years old,” he says. “It’s a scary thought to be graduating from high school and I hope there’s another step after I’m done here.”

While team goals are clearly championship or bust, Emerson has individual business to take care of this season. He looks to follow in the footsteps of Treyvon Walsh and Jake Creasey, moving on to the post-secondary ranks.

Several CIS schools should be interested, and Emerson has received nibbles from the NCAA.

“I think the thing is to be patient and do it properly,” he says. “You want to be smart about it, weigh all your options and make sure the school you choose is right for you.”

Coach Adam Smith believes Emerson will have many programs to choose from after he lights it up this fall.

“After this season the biggest question for him will not be if he goes to university but where will they play him,” he says. “He could go as a DB or a reciever and have a great CIS career.”

The Grizzlies launch into regular season action Oct. 9 when they visit Robert Bateman.

GWG’s home opener is Oct. 16 versus Rick Hansen.