Vernon Hills' Szmyt will live the D-I dream at Louisville
Andre Szmyt will live the dream, even though the Vernon Hills senior never had it.
Not until recently, maybe.
"Our linebacker, Andrew Smith, he's like, 'Live my dream for me,' " Szmyt said.
While football-playing boys everywhere dream wildly about someday playing Division-I football, few ever do. Even Smith, an exemplary leader and the captain of the Daily Herald Lake County all-area team last fall after leading the Cougars to the Class 5A state championship game, wasn't highly coveted by D-I coaches. Instead, he'll play for D-III Denison.
Then there's Szmyt, who never played organized football until last fall. Tuesday, the kicker with the thunderbolt leg verbally committed to the University of Louisville, where he'll be a preferred walk-on. Yes, that's Louisville, which boasts Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson and head coach Bobby Petrino.
You dreaming, Andre?
"To hear back from (Louisville), that they're interested," Szmyt said, "at this point it's still surreal."
Don't pinch him.
Szmyt, an athletically built 6-foot-1, 190-pounder, visited Louisville this week. When he was asked to attend the Cardinals' summer camp starting on May 30, Szmyt knew the answer was as easy as kicking a PAT.
Here comes the kicker, Kentucky.
"I told the coaches right when I got there that I really love the campus and love the football facility," Szmyt said. "All the coaches I met were really great guys. They gave me a spot on the roster for this upcoming season."
Szmyt was also talking to Michigan State and Maryland, but when those schools remained noncommital, it made for an easy decision for him. Besides, with Szmyt seeking to stay in the Midwest, Louisville's less-than-five-hour drive from home made the Atlantic Coast Conference school even more attractive as a destination.
"After the (high school) season is really when things started to pick up," Szmyt said. "Going to the state championship was definitely good exposure for me."
He visited Michigan State a couple of weeks later.
"I was thinking that was going to be the only offer I might get," Szmyt said. "But Louisville jumped in really quick. They were like, 'Yeah, come out, visit and see the facilities.' "
Louisville liked his film -- just like Vernon Hills football coach Bill Bellecomo did last year.
Szmyt, a soccer player since he was little, quit the varsity soccer team midway through his junior year but kept kicking footballs when he had time. Then late last spring, he got together with VH football players Kyle Hull, Chris Mariella and Jeff Rosenstock and headed to the football field. They videotaped Szmyt making three straight field goals from 50 yards out.
"I would tell (Bellecomo), 'Yeah, I'm going to come out for the football team,' " Szmyt said. "He'd always be in doubt. He'd said, 'No, you're a soccer guy. You're going to be playing soccer.' "
When Bellecomo saw the tape, he gave Szmyt a vote of confidence. Szmyt knew then, for sure, he was going out for football his senior year. He then went out to the field and kicked in front of Bellecomo.
"I just kicked for him a little bit," Szmyt said. "He said, 'We'll get you a couple of real balls and good cleats, and then who knows how good you'll be.' "
All Szmyt did last fall was drill 9 field goals, including a school-record 48-yarder. He was automatic on PAT kicks. He boomed punts, pinning opposing offenses deep in their own territory. Without him, Vernon Hills doesn't make the longest postseason run in its history.
Redshirt freshman Blanton Creque kicked 3 field goals in Louisville's loss to LSU in the Citrus Bowl. But kickers are like baseball relievers. They can go from reliable to unreliable in a hurry.
Szmyt is still learning the craft of kicking a football.
Said Szmyt, laughing: "Everyone on the (Vernon Hills) team is like, 'We're so jealous of you. It's been our dream to play D-I. You play just one year and you get this amazing opportunity.' "
He appreciates the support of his high school teammates. And he plans to make them proud.
• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64