"Morgan is your Russell Wilson of wrestling. He eats and breathes it," said Mavericks' head wrestling coach Brian Boardman. "When you talk about being prepared he is the epitome of all aspects of that word. He keeps journals, watches video, travels wherever he can to practice and get better."
His work ethic has inspired his coach and his team, and has Smith looking forward to giving a strong showing at this weekend's Mat Classic XXV at the Tacoma Dome. His coaches and teammates believe in him, and the main difference between Smith and the Seahawks quarterback — besides their sports — may be that Smith doesn't end his interviews with "Go Hawks."
Instead, he just reiterates his focus and determination to continue to get better.
"I think hard work will determine how far you get," Smith said in a very Wilson-esque quote.
The Meadowdale senior has put his money where his mouth is. He's earned the role of team captain, which Boardman says is "not given, it's earned." Smith is up early leading his team on runs before school, staying late at practice after classes and — when he's not working on homework — watching videos and researching opponents.
Sound familiar Seahawks fans?
"He just takes it to another level," said Josh Knowles, an assistant coach for Meadowdale. "He's always thinking about it. He's always studying other wrestlers and seeing how he can better himself."
While talking about how big a part of his life wrestling is, Smith laughs off the comparisons to Wilson.
"Coach (Boardman) really loves Russell Wilson," Smith said with a smile. "People tell me I look like him. I don't believe that."
There are differences, for sure. Instead of playing in the National Football League, Smith wrestles in the 160-pound weight class for the Mavericks. After not getting past the district tournament his freshman year Smith decided he wanted to get better, and has continued to rapidly improve ever since. He was an alternate to state his sophomore season and won a couple matches at the Mat Classic last year.
While discussing his captain, Boardman almost sounds in awe of just how much effort Smith, who is 26-2 this year, is putting into his final high school season.
"His work ethic is bar none," Boardman said. "He hates any delay whatsoever where he's not actually moving and getting better. Tired is not a word to describe him because he'll push himself and just keep going and going. He absolutely just doesn't stop."
When he's not on the mat — or organizing runs with teammates — Smith, like Wilson, is a firm believer in preparation. He researches his opponents online before matches, watches video of wrestling on YouTube and adds to a notebook he keeps that's become a gold mine of information for Smith.
"He's already pre-prepared. He already has a good idea of what's going on," Boardman said. "He doesn't go into anything oblivious. … He's a sponge of the sport. He's just soaking it all in."
Smith, who started wrestling in seventh grade, began writing in a journal regularly this season at his coach's request. Boardman encourages all his athletes to keep notes in a journal. Smith uses his to put notes on a particular wrestler after a match, information on his technique and form, as well as inspirational quotes from everyone from Wayne Gretzky to his idol, famous wrestler — and Penn State wrestling coach — Cael Sanderson.
Says one entry: "I used to tell myself when I was nervous, 'I am ready.' I did that thousands of times. The more you say it the more you believe it. — Cael Sanderson."
Other entries mean little to the wrestling illiterate.
"Always maintain good position in neutral. When he pushes, I circle out. When he pulls I go into pressure."
If the journal is unavailable, or if something needs to be documented immediately, Smith will write notes in his phone.
"One way or another he's got a written record of what all is going on," Boardman said.
The Meadowdale coach praises his senior captain for setting such a good example to all of the younger Mavericks who look up to Smith.
"He's such a good model for all of my young kids that come in and see how hard he works and see how good he is," Boardman said. "They realize if I really want to be good at this sport, that's what I have to do. … We've got to the point where he's another coach in the room."
Smith's presence has helped countless Meadowdale wrestlers. One in particular is Ciaran Ball, a junior, who placed third at regionals at 195-pounds. Ball is Smith's workout partner, and going against the wrestler who weighs over 30 pounds more than him, has helped Smith modify his style.
"He's almost changed me into a different kind of wrestler just because he's so strong and I have to match his strength," Smith said. "But I also have to use speed to beat him. It's definitely changed me for the better."
And Smith isn't the only one benefitting from the training.
"He's been pushing Ciaran very hard," Boardman said. "As a result, I'm excited to see what Ciaran can do because he's had this kid pushing him all year long. They've kind of grown together."
Another wrestler that's quite close to Smith is his younger brother, Tim. Tim Smith, a sophomore who also plays varsity football at Meadowdale, is ranked No. 8 in the state in the 220-pound weight class. Morgan is Tim's biggest fan, and — even though Tim has quite a few pounds on him — will still go toe-to-toe with his little brother.
"I hope he's going to be a three-time state champion," Morgan Smith said. "We even wrestle sometimes, even though he's 220. I think I'm able to wrestle him just because I know some of the things he does. And we agree not to try to throw each other, even though I know he could any time he wants to. It's a good relationship. We've always been close and I think we push each other."
Boardman admits that he hopes Tim can "step into (Morgan's) role a little bit" once the senior has departed, although he knows that Morgan will be impossible to replace. He also hopes that Morgan, who would like to wrestle at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. or Oregon State, finds success is his final Mat Classic.
"My hope is that through all the hard work and dedication he puts into it he comes out first at state," Boardman said. "With everything he's put into it, I hope he gets his dream. He deserves it."
Knowles, too, thinks Smith might draw some attention at the state tournament.
"I think this year some people are going to be looking at the state tournament for him and I think they're going to see good things," Knowles said.
Regardless of how things turn out this weekend, Boardman isn't concerned at all about Smith's future.
"The beautiful thing is this transcends wrestling," Boardman said. "This is a mentality. It's how he treats life. He's going to be extremely successful. He's got that mindset. Whatever he does he doesn't just do it part way. It's 100 percent or nothing."
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