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Schaumburg's Stacey Smith knows better than most how important legs are.
He got an up-close lesson when he was 5. That's when Smith's uncle and mentor, Lesean, was in a bad motorcycle accident, leaving him without the use of his legs.
"It was a big life lesson for me," Smith said. "I want to football now for him and have a purpose to play. I told him 'I am going to be your second pair of legs.' "
Smith, who was a three-year starter at quarterback for Schaumburg, used his legs to dominate opponents and dazzle onlookers with his nifty moves and breakaway speed.
With Smith leading the way, Schaumburg had its best season since 1999, when it finished second in the state.
Smith's inspirational season has earned him the honorary captaincy of the Daily Herald's Northwest all-area team.
Schaumburg coach Mark Stilling, who has been that helm at Schaumburg since 2005, said Smith needed to learn that he couldn't do everything himself and had to count on others to help him get better.
"I told him that on his first two years on the varsity he was trying to be the sun," Stilling said. "Everything revolves around the sun. I wanted him to be a star, and just shine brightly."
Smith said when he learned that lesson, his game rose to a new level.
"Football is a team game," Smith said. "Football is all about a team. Once everybody learns that, the bond gets close."
Smith still has that close bond to his uncle. In a wheelchair, Lesean, along with all the Smith family, come onto the field after each game to congratulate Smith and the Schaumburg players and pose for pictures.
"I didn't know what happened at first," Smith said. "I was little. I remember visiting him in the hospital and all these tubes were in him. I still didn't know what happened. It took some time for me to figure it out."
Smith's uncle, who also played quarterback, led Proviso East to its first state playoff appearance in 1998. Stacey watched in amazement how his uncle led the Pirates to their best season in school history with an 8-3 record.
"I wanted so much to be like him," Smith said. "That was the reason I wore number 13. Every year someone had that number. So my senior year I had to get number 13. All my accomplishments are for him."
Opposing coaches schemed to contain Smith all season, but to no avail. Against Glenbard West in the state semifinals, the Hilltoppers pulled out all the stops to attempt to stop him. Despite that, Smith still rushed for 193 yards on 19 carries, including a 71-yard touchdown run.
"Every time he touches the ball you have to hold your breath" Glenbard West coach Chad Hetlet said. "He is the most electrifying kid in the state. To hold him down is an impossible job."
Hetlet wasn't alone scratching his head on how to defend Smith. But despite all the strategies and schemes, Smith still managed to score in every game this season and twice was able to score 4 touchdowns in one game.
Smith rushed for 1,963 yards on 191 carries for a 10.3 rushing average while scoring 31 touchdowns. He passed for 474 yards on 29-of-78 passing with 16.4 yards per completion. He threw 4 touchdown passes and had just 1 interception.
Smith was a dangerous kick returner as well. He returned a punt against Barrington for a touchdown.
"The strides he made from last year to this year were tremendous," Stilling said. "Not just the way he plays football, but the way he approaches things. When he steps between the lines, he always has been a worker. But he really did a better job of being a teammate outside the lines this year. That has all contributed to him being so explosive."
Smith, so spectacular in the open field, got there many times thanks to the Saxon offensive line of Matt Zolper, Justin Sanchez, Matt Stopka, Alex Piotrowski and Michael Bruno. The Saxons averaged 36.5 points per game and rushed for 4,098 yards for the season with Smith accounting nearly half of those yards.
"It was pretty easy to block for Stacey," said Zolper, who being a four-year starter, had Smith running behind him for three of those years. "He made our bad blocks really good and made a good block look even better."
Smith said that trust in his teammates was the main reason that Schaumburg played so well this season.
"We evolved over the year," Smith said. "And everything started go well. The plays started happening and we started scoring. And then the defense started making good stops and the game was ours."
Former Conant coach Dave Prendergast, who retired nine years ago after being at helm at Conant for 17 years, returned to the sidelines last year to be the offensive coordinator for the Saxons. He said he can't remember a runner as exciting as Smith.
"It is the easiest I have ever had it, to call plays with Stacey," Prendergast said. "It was easy because we wanted to have the ball in his hands as many times as we could."
Smith would use those plays designed by Prendergast to turn short runs into things of beauty.
"I just see some holes," Smith said. "I would just hit them at full speed. You can't think twice about it. My instincts help me play the game. I try not to think too much."
Smith started playing football beginning when he was 8 in the Memorial Park program in Broadview. It is the same program his uncles Lesean, Lawrence and Lloyd played in. Smith played there because of his uncles, driving from Schaumburg for practice.
"My mom didn't want me to play football," Smith said. "I wanted to play football. I would see Pop Warner guys at Nationals and I wanted that to be me."
Smith got his wish, taking his Memorial Park team to Florida in 7th grade, where they finished second in the nation.
He came to Schaumburg, where he has lived with his mom since he was 5. By his sophomore year, he was the starting quarterback.
He has drawn interest from Western Illinois, North Dakota State, Eastern Illinois and some Mid-American Conference schools. But with his 5-foot 9, 155-pound frame, playing quarterback in college may be difficult.
"It doesn't matter where I play," Smith said. "I will just try to fit in where I can. They want me to play slot or some Wildcat quarterback or defense or special teams. I just want to play ball."
Smith also uses those legs to run track, eschewing his family's wishes that he play baseball. He was second in the MSL and second in sectionals in the long jump, and was conference and sectional champ in the triple jump and placed 10th in the state. He also ran on the state-qualifying 4 x 100 and the 4 x 200 relay teams.
"This is something I did for myself," said Smith, who became the first track athlete to qualify in 4 events downstate. "I grew up playing baseball. I just wanted to do something different."
And those legs of Smith's ended up honoring his uncle with the kind of high school athletic career that won't soon be forgotten.
"I had to buy into everything coach Stilling said," Smith said. "He told me not to force things and let it happen.
"And it is happening right now. I am overjoyed."