Confidence helped Putt, Smith power Patriots


Heritage Academy running back Kelvin “K.J.” Smith has plenty of open space to maneuver in against Canton Academy.

Heritage Academy running back Kelvin “K.J.” Smith has plenty of open space to maneuver in against Canton Academy. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch


Adam Minichino



Balance is a prerequisite for nearly all successful football teams. 


Heritage Academy coach Sean Harrison is no different when he says he wants the Patriots to be able to run and to throw the football when they want to. 


Juniors Carter Putt and Kelvin "K.J." Smith made sure Harrison could dial up nearly any play on any down and have success. 


Putt threw for 2,381 yards and 31 touchdowns (five interceptions). He also rushed for two scores and completed 60 percent of his throws. 


In his first season with the program, Smith, a transfer from Columbus High School, eclipsed his preseason goal and finished with 1,675 yards and 21 touchdowns (average of 7 yards per carry).  


For their accomplishments, Putt and Smith are The Dispatch's Small Schools All-Area Football Team co-Offensive Players of the Year. 


Harrison said Putt's confidence was the biggest area of development from his sophomore to junior season. He said Putt was able to put mistakes behind him faster. He said Putt also had better timing and continuity with his receivers. 


"I think he did a good job of throwing people open, not waiting until they were open," Harrison said "I think we were more in synch when I called something. He knew what I wanted him to do and also did a really good job when what I wanted to do wasn't there of finding what was there. I always tell them their job is to cover up my mistakes, and I think he did really good job of that." 


Smith complemented Putt and a passing game that featured Jared Long, Moak Griffin, Lex Rogers, Noel Fisher, and Banks Hyde. His bruising running style attracted contact and welcomed it as he developed confidence in his ability to be the team's primary tailback. 


"K.J. was our workhorse," Harrison said. "At one part of the season before we kind of started getting Moak the ball out of the backfield K.J. had 90-something percent of our carries and we're a run-first team. We were 68 or 69 percent run and he has 90-something percent of his carries. 


"We were fortunate he made it through injury free. You never really saw him slow down. Physically, his work in the weight room really helped. I think he really accomplished something making it through the year as many times as he carried it. That is a goal this season, to find somebody he can split those carries with a little bit to get him a rest." 


With Smith taking a bulk of the carries, Harrison said the Patriots took a lot more deep shots than he ever has called as a coach in large part due to his confidence in Putt and the confidence Putt had to deliver the football where he wanted. As a result, Heritage Academy scored 471 points and scored 35 or more points 10 times. 


Putt worked with his receivers nearly every weekend to build the relationships that allowed those statistics to blossom. The work started with Putt and Long but soon branched out to multiple playmakers. Harrison said he never forced Putt or any of the offensive players to do that work, but he said Putt is a reflection of his father, Michael, in that neither one is going to get rattled if things go off script. 


Harrison said he saw signs of that quality in Putt last season, but there still were times when he got worked up when things sped up. This season, Harrison said Putt erased about 95 percent of the young mistakes he made. 


Harrison said he saw the same maturation in Smith. He said the proverbial "light bulb" came on for Smith after the game against Tupelo Christian Prep in Week 2. 


"Kirk Academy was Week 1, and everybody was feeling their way through that one. Game 2, he struggled a little bit in the first half and we had a little 'Come to Jesus meeting' with him in the second quarter," Harrison said. "I think after that corrections were made throughout the year. He came from playing 6A football and he was a fullback. He had never played tailback. ... He learned in our league don't dance, go score. I think he figured out he could be very successful doing that." 


Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor


Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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