Football: Smith proving to be a good sport for Rams

By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer

Justin Smith had no intention of playing football again for Temple City High School.

He was coming off a successful baseball season two years ago as a sophomore and earned second-team All-Rio Hondo League honors as the Rams’ No. 2 pitcher. It was normal to want to focus solely on baseball, but it proved to be much too difficult after his junior year.

For starters, Smith’s friends were on him every day.

Max Ruckle always was in his ear and telling Smith they needed him back. Some of the offensive linemen told Smith they didn’t want to block for anybody else.

Then there was lineman Victor Dominguez, who was the mosquito Smith couldn’t get rid of.

You’re gonna play, right?

You’re gonna be quarterback, right?

Smith’s former teammates knew what he was capable of.

As a sophomore, Smith led the junior varsity team to a Rio Hondo League championship with a 7-6 win over Monrovia. Smith weathered the pressure of facing a Monrovia team that was 19-0 in two seasons heading into the game.

Not long after Anthony White was hired at Temple City, the new Rams coach received an e-mail from Ruckle’s father, Terry.

I hear Justin Smith is thinking about coming back.

As the buzz spread about Smith possibly changing his mind, there was renewed excitement among potential players because of a young and energetic new coach.

Smith grew curious.

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He attended a meeting with about 80 others and he didn’t come alone. Branden Pultz, Ruben Jara and Alex Vigil, teammates of Smith on the baseball team, also attended.

Smith’s interest grew after the meeting, and White noticed. He paid a visit to Smith in the locker room before a game and attended a few of his games.

White asked Smith if he was going to play.

“I’m still thinking about it,” he replied.

White pressed harder.

“You’d be a good asset to the team,” White said. “We really want you to come out. We’re going to have a good team. I promise you.”

So what changed?

“I heard a lot of good stuff from the players,” Smith said. “I felt I had nothing to lose.”

When White came on board, all he heard was the Rams had five returning starters – four linemen and one running back.

“They counted us out from the beginning of the season,” White said. “We were the underdog from day one.”

White knew he needed to inject some balance in the offense, but he was missing a piece in the puzzle that was the spread offense.

“I needed a quarterback who could throw and run,” White said.

Smith’s decision so far has paid off. He’s passed for 1,068 yards and seven touchdowns with only one interception. He’s also rushed for 238 yards and three touchdowns. Pultz has become a prime target for Smith at wide receiver. Vigil and Jara have been instrumental as well.

During the hiring process, White was asked by Temple City baseball coach Barry Bacon what he thought about sharing athletes.

“Two sports is hard to do at Temple City because of academics, but I encourage it,” Bacon said. “That was probably the big thing, my one question I brought to the interview room. If you can’t share, you’ll just kill each other’s programs.”

White was on the same page with Bacon, which was why it was easy to aggressively pursue Smith.

Watching his junior year pass him by hurt Smith most. Temple City made an improbable run to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division while he was away.

Baseball was fun, but there’s an aura to playing under the lights and on the gridiron in front of an entire community, which Smith realized.

“I tell them all the time,” Bacon said. “I can’t duplicate the band and the lights that football brings. It’s something special.

“They really would have missed it if they wouldn’t have done it.”

miguel.melendez@sgvn.com

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  • AsianTrojan

    You wrote the wrong name for Vigil. His first name is Alec. Good article though, I enjoyed reading it.

  • Goldenarm

    Vigil is part of TC’s “not too tall, actually pretty small, quicker than y’all” defensive front, a unit which can change week to week….and is spiced up with other carnivorous creatures, one with a familiar Irish last name and a desire to create mayhem wherever he goes.
    The blog is surprisingly quiet – considering a crucial war will be underway 24.5 hours from right now, when the Rams and Wildcats go another round in a series that over the years has born some great football games and memories for both sides.

    The Eagle Rock, Glendale, Keppel staff members are likely not too hip on the war, but White and Prado being of Meadian descent, know M-town well. Maddox ‘s head was seen reflecting off the La Canada lights last Thursday, so besides film he got a first hand look at what Mc Kay likes to do…and just what he is thinking behind those Miami Vice shades and cheekful of nasty chew. No one will ever mistake McKay for Chuck Knox, and hand him the title “Ground Chuck”, for his unrelenting playcalling of endless dives, traps and counters. To McKay a counter is a flat surface where you store balls you intend to throw later.
    Rumor has it McKay once called two consecutive run plays – but it was later confirmed he just stuttered or choked on some Skoal and was misunderstood by his QB. The 2nd run play netted 99 yards to the 1 yard line, where McKay then returned to the spread and footballs filled the night sky until the moon turned a blood red and darkness fell over the land.

    Call me a dinosaur, call me a Ram fan who can’t let go, whatever…but I cannot see us entering into a score war with Monrovia and winning 52 -48. Our O-line and their D line make for a serious match up – were our O-line allowed to hit and move downfield in an all out fight – all night with Ruckle running behind them. This is TC’s best hope for a win, and it would include running a big fullback like Mendez or O’Mall down the pipe first. Monrovia has not been challenged in that manner, not even by San Dimas.
    Chew clock play hard defense and keep M-town under 21 points…and be close enough to strike in the the quarter against a weary defense on the field most of the night.
    This is not what you will see Friday. Good luck #70, #58, #69, #77, #71, #65 – it is you that hold the golden goblet all of us hope to sip from! Bring it home and keep it!
    Go Rams!!

  • New York

    Goldenarm,

    Temple City should feel pretty good going into the game tomorrow night. You guys are finally clicking offensively and playing some inspired defense. Your receivers are not the fastest but they run good patterns. There is always something challenging about defending a smooth passing game at the high school level. It is damn frustrating at times.

    I like Monrovia, but I am a Monrovia homer. Hopefully Monrovia’s pass rush will touch your QB enough times to disrupt the timing a bit.

    Offensively, Monrovia needs to remember that 4+ yards is a successful play. Our first five games saw tons of big running plays to the point that it looked easy. Sometimes patience is a virtue. We need to be aggressive and fast. This should be a fun one.

  • Rams Know It All

    Best of luck to Justin and all the Rams in their game vs. Monrovia. Justin and all the baseball players were given as an equal opportunity by the previous Ram coaching staff to continue on the gridiron. Some choose not to pursue fora wide variety of reasons. I know that prior to Justin’s sopohomore season Backus gave countless hours of tutoring to him and all quarterbacks through out the summer. Justin was a great JV QB then and has so far exceeded all expectations on the Varsity level. Congrats!

  • New York

    One more thing. Monrovia needs to stop the run. I don’t care who the opponent is. Stopping the run should be the first priority. I think sometimes when facing a spread offense, it is easy to focus primarily on stopping the pass. The problem with that is focusing only on the pass opens up a high probability ground game. Stopping the run without relying on secondary support is a huge advantage that I would like to have!

  • Dan

    Should be a great game, good luck to both teams!

  • The Lancer

    TC’s qb is very good. I was surprised at how well he throws the ball. Missing his junior year really hurts, but the past is the past. His one interception was from a Lancer…Mike Alexander…oh yea, but 7 tds to 1 pick is really good.
    Good Luck to TC and Monrovia this tomorrow.

  • Goldenarm

    Lancer,

    I never anticipated Justin would become the double threat he is, hopefully that agility will save him from great bodily harm in the pocket against M-town. He threw a pick to Peko when we played Alhambra…but he is actually a better QB now…each game he has improved upon the last – always a great sign. Thx for the good word.

    NY,

    Our primary receiver last year was Gianni Bruno Lopez, a kid with soft hands and decent speed – who could run from here to Rhode Island and not get winded. This year we have 5 primary receivers, and each one brings a slightly different skill set. Overall, some very good talent in the bunch.

    Our defense is small – a fact I GUARANTEE MADDOX HAS NOTICED. I expect we will see the big train wreck, Derrick Johnson, plowing toward our cornerbacks off tackle and outside tonight. If we cannot stop the run it will be a loooooooong night for the Rams. We must WRAP ON #27, as he is always looking to break off a big one.
    We are so young, I just hope the seniors on our line and our sensational senior RB – let these youngsters know THIS IS THE GAME OF THE SEASON and you must rise up and bring your absolute best!!
    Go Rams!

  • Rams Fan 09

    All of u can say whatcha want..temple city us doing alright this year..last years team
    was awesome to watch..they had Kenny Werner and Gianni Bruno Lopez at wideouts and they had size and speed..they had Morgan Hatch at qb
    and Justin Smith doesn’t even match up to Morgans arm or speed..if u can find anyone
    on temple city this year that put up the numbers that Kenny and Gianni put up combined them we’ll see..Kenny had 425 yards and 23 catches with 6 touchdowns..Gianni had 40+ catches with 700+ yards and 4 touchdowns..put them together and u have close to
    1100 yards combined in recieving and 10 touchdowns with over 90 catches..temple city was amazing last year..temple city will never be the same with the spread offense..temple city is a power running and secret throwing team

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