PSU football player Kyle Smith of Elmira died Wednesday – The Register-Guard
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Chris Miller has no doubt that Kyle Smith is the greatest athlete to ever come out of Elmira High School.
“If you look at what he accomplished in football and wrestling, it is unmatched out there,” said Miller, a 1987 Elmira graduate who coached the Falcons football team from 2006-11. “I don’t remember anyone accomplishing what Kyle did.”
Smith, a state champion wrestler and all-state football player who was preparing for his senior season playing football at Portland State, died suddenly Wednesday night in his downtown Portland apartment. A PSU spokesman said Thursday that no other details are known about Smith’s death.
“He was a big, hard-working, fun-loving, happy-go-lucky kid who was fun to be around and coach,” Miller said. “I’m just devastated. I could not believe it.”
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Smith graduated from Elmira in 2012 after winning two state wrestling championships and earning all-state honors as both an offensive and defensive lineman for the Falcons.
“He’s the greatest athlete I ever coached in 31 years,” Elmira wrestling coach Scott Shannon said. “Not because he was huge, but because of how athletic he was for his size.”
Smith was a three-year starter at left tackle for Portland State, earning second-team, all-Big Sky Conference honors last year as a junior when the Vikings had their best season ever at the FCS level by finishing 9-3 and earning a No. 5 ranking entering the postseason.
“I feel we have the most united, close-knit football team in America and we just lost a major piece of that team in Kyle,” Portland State coach Bruce Barnum said. “Right now we have two concerns, Kyle’s family and our football players.”
Portland State is in the middle of spring practice, but met instead Thursday morning to learn of Smith’s death.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of Kyle Smith,” PSU athletic director Mark Rountree said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time. I would ask the Viking family to support our student-athletes and coaches with love and caring during this difficult time. We must all show resolve to cope with this tragedy as best we can.”
Smith started 12 games as a freshman in 2013 and earned honorable mention, all-conference honors as a sophomore for Portland State. Miller said PSU coaches attended every game during Smith’s senior year in high school.
“They told me he was the No. 1 recruit out of any prospect they were going after,” Miller said. “They were so thrilled when they signed him.”
Smith was always big for his age and his first love was football as he played in a North Eugene middle-school league against older kids for two years before he was under the weight limit to play in Elmira during seventh grade. Miller was hired as Elmira football coach when Smith was in seventh grade and remembered the first time he saw him on the field.
“I will always remember how Kyle’s team was on offense first and he walked up to get into a three-point stance and the kid across from him grabbed his teammate and tried to get him to switch so that he would not have to block Kyle,” Miller said. “The teammate would not switch so the kid lined up four yards away from him on the defensive line. It was pretty funny to see.”
Smith started for the Falcons as a freshman and was an all-league selection as a sophomore. He earned first-team, all-Sky-Em League honors on the offensive and defensive lines during his final two years of high school and was the league defensive player of the year both seasons.
As a senior, Smith was named 4A defensive player of the year after helping the Falcons win their first league title in 20 years before reaching the state semifinals.
“We ran a 3-4 defense with him at nose guard and it got to the point where people would not even try to run on us,” Miller said. “He was the defensive player of the year as a nose guard. Usually that goes to a linebacker or defensive back, but that is how dominant of a football player he was.”
Smith grew up playing basketball in the winter and did not start wrestling until his freshman season at Elmira when he finished with a .500 record. He won a district title as a sophomore and reached the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
Smith repeated as the district champion as a junior and lost only one match before he captured the 4A title at 285 pounds when he pinned Adrian Phillips of Madras in less than three minutes. Smith went on to claim the junior freestyle and Greco titles to become the first Elmira wrestler to win the state triple crown.
Smith went undefeated as a senior and pinned all but two of his opponents. He repeated as state champion by defeating Roosevelt’s Semise Kofe 3-0.
Smith took cultural wrestling trips to Japan and Russia during his high school career.
Smith is the second Portland State football player to die since the end of the season. AJ Schlatter, a freshman linebacker, passed away on Jan. 17 at home following complications from throat surgery.
“Probably one of the goofiest and most easy going kids I’ve ever met,” PSU tight end Cam Sommer posted on Twitter. “Been a pleasure getting to know you last 5 years big fella.”
Smith was preparing for his final season at Portland State that he hoped would lead to a pro football career.
“With his frame and athletic ability, he had a possible future at the NFL level,” Shannon said. “Sadly, we will never get to see that.”
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