Smithville coach Michael Campbell works with his players during practice on Wednesday afternoon.

The Smithville Seminoles’ run to the Class 1A North half championship game may have surprised some, but it wasn’t a shock in their own locker room.

Third-year Smithville coach Michael Campbell credited the leadership with helping the Noles make it to their third North half game in four seasons.

“It caught us off guard, but it didn’t. We knew we could be special if the young guys could step up. We just didn’t know if they would or not, and they did,” Campbell said. “The young guys really stepped up, and the older guys really took care of their roles. Layne Williams, Tucker Hood and Cole Hughey were very big. Beau Hallman was very big in what we did. We didn’t have a lot of seniors, but the ones we did have were really good and really led the team.”

With seven skill players coming back on offense and experience at every position on defense as well, the Seminoles are hoping to get a game further this season.

“Last year was a fun ride, not because of the winning. That was secondary to the leadership we had. So this year, they are understanding that it took a lot of leadership and a lot to get there, but we want to go one step further,” Campbell said. “It’s going to take even more, and you have to have a little luck on your side. We’re hoping that all the stars align, and we can somehow find a way to get it done.”

While last year’s seniors were the vocal leaders, Campbell also said he likes the lead by example type of leadership going on this season.

“These guys are different. They are a quieter group but they’re ones that once they step on the field, they just play. We have talked a lot about just leading by example. You don’t have to scream and yell and do all that kind of stuff, and they’re not that kind of group,” Campbell said. “They are ones that really just step out there and play and show up to work, and they do all that stuff. We’re hoping that we can kind of keep building off that and get the younger guys to really step into their roles.”

If Smithville makes another deep playoff run, they wouldn’t have to face Hollandale Simmons, which eliminated the Noles in the North finals last season, until the state championship. Their road to a repeat division title, however, would go through defending champion Nanih Waiya, in addition to last season’s division foes in Okolona and Tupelo Christian Prep.

“Only three in our division didn’t make the playoffs. You have the top two teams from both divisions now crammed into one,” Campbell said. “You have Okolona, who is right there neck and neck with us and was fighting for the division. Noxapater is very strong. A lot of people are picking Nanih Waiya because they’re defending state champs, but Noxapater is going to be tough and will be loaded. French Camp always has a good program. You have a new coach at Hamilton, so you don’t know what they’ve got but I imagine they will have good athletes like always. Vardaman always has good tradition. TCPS is probably one of the best coached teams that we play all year long, and they have a lot of guys over there that know the system that are well-coached and play hard.”

Campbell said his players welcome the challenge of being in one of the most difficult divisions.

“We’re in a loaded division, and it will be interesting,” he said. “We will be fighting week in and week out, but it makes it fun because you have to compete and if you don’t bring your A-Game, you could be sitting at home come playoffs.”

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