Photo by Rick Kozlowski/The Journal
Carl Lee award winner Anthony Smith of Martinsburg tries to elude a pair of would-be tacklers after catching a pass during a game this past season against Musselman.
By Rick Kozlowski
The Journal, Martinsburg
MARTINSBURG — Anthony Smith and his Martinsburg teammates experienced a reality check to open the 2020 football season.
A couple of teams ran wild on the Bulldogs, who went into the season as the four -time defending Class AAA state champions, winners of eight of the previous 10 titles and owners of a 56-game winning streak, 18th-best all-time nationally.
Martinsburg won its first game despite allowing 363 yards to Musselman and fell by two points to Spring Valley as the Timberwolves ran for 249 yards against the Bulldogs.
Opening the season with a young and inexperienced lineup, plus a new head coach, Martinsburg had to refocus after its 1-1 start.
“I think after those first two games, it humbled us and made us work harder,” Smith said. “We just got hungry and didn’t want anybody to score on us.”
With Smith, a returning all-state defensive back, leading the way, Martinsburg, the Bulldogs buckled down so much that they allowed a total of nine yards rushing over its next four games — all victories, three of them shutouts, including a 62-0 playoff victory over George Washington in the first round of the playoffs.
The season for Martinsburg ended the next week as the Bulldogs were unable to play in the quarterfinals because of a bad color on the state COVID-19 map.
“It’s unfortunate we couldn’t finish out the season to finish out a five-peat,” Smith said. “We did what we could control, and I’m proud of the team this year.”
He did his part, though, leading Martinsburg in tackles as a defensive back, a task that has helped Smith be named the winner of the West Virginia Sports Writers Association’s Carl Lee Award as the state’s top player in the secondary.
“I would definitely like that one,” said Smith, who is only just now learning of his honor.
Others considered for the award included Devin Jackson of Huntington, Nate Shelek of Wheeling Park, Devin Hatfield of Herbert Hoover and Shawn Pennington of Liberty-Raleigh.
“Anthony was a big part of our unit from the get-go,” said Martinsburg coach Britt Sherman, who took over the program when David Walker moved on to lead the college program at Concord.
“We changed some things at the beginning of the year, and we kind of built the defense around Anthony.”
Smith was in on 50 tackles in earning all-state honors as a defensive back for the second straight year.
“That’s always an honor, and I’m blessed to be all-state two years in a row,” Smith said. “I’m thankful for my coaches put me in position.”
Rarely, though, did teams try to throw against the Martinsburg standout, who has a pair of Division I offers as a safety.
That’s the respect he enjoyed, a reputation that preceded him.
“He could play every position on the field, except defensive line,” Sherman said.
That includes offense.
Smith proved particularly productive as a wide receiver for Martinsburg as he hauled in a team-best 25 catches for 680 yards, a 27.2-yards-per-catch average, and nine touchdowns. His 778 all-purpose yards ranked second for the Bulldogs.
In Martinsburg’s 51-33 victory over Musselman, Smith caught three touchdown passes, including an amazing diving catch that saw him pluck the ball from the air virtually inches from hitting the turf in the end zone.
Smith said his success as a receiver was a case of waiting his turn after sharing limited time as part of a talented corps of pass-catchers.
He said Walker is recruiting Smith, a 6-foot, 185-pounder, as wide receiver.
“I like defense the most,” Smith said. “But I’d play wherever.”
Which Martinsburg sometimes did with Smith this season, moving him into different spots in some defensive alignments to benefit the squad.
It worked out after the unfamiliar territory in which Martinsburg found itself at the start of the season.
He’s looking forward to his football future.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “I want to produce as much them as I did for this team,” Smith said.
Smith will be honored when the the sports writers organization holds its Victory Awards Dinner May 23 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.