The Manassas Park wrestling team is hard at work preparing to defend back-to-back Virginia A team titles, but Cougars senior Todd Smoot isn't anywhere near the wrestling mat.
Smoot, who can become just the second Virginia A wrestler since 1970 to win four state individual championships, isn't slacking off, he's just hard at work helping the undefeated Manassas Park football team defend its state title.
The Cougars (12-0) travel to Washington & Lee (11-1) on Saturday for a rematch of last year's Virginia A semifinal, won by Manassas Park, 35-6.
Although Smoot is one of the marquee wrestlers in the state in any classification -- wrestling fans were following his mat moves while he was in middle school -- he isn't a headline grabber in football. Yet Smoot is one of reasons the Cougars have won 26 straight games.
"Todd is athletically sneaky," Manassas Park football coach Jeff Lloyd said. "You look at him and don't think he is athletic, but he plays a lot bigger than he is."
Smoot is listed in the game program at 150 pounds, but in reality he weighs closer to 140 and he will wrestle this winter at 135. Despite his size, Smoot rarely leaves the field -- he starts on offense and defense and plays special teams.
On defense, he is part of a senior linebacker corps that includes Bucky Griffith in the middle and Smoot and fellow wrestler Will Cruz on the outside.
"Bucky is a big hitter and he clogs up the middle and forces teams to bounce it outside," Smoot said. "Will and I bounce them right back inside."
On Friday, it was the Cougars' defense that bounced Chatham right out of the playoffs. The Cougars trailed 21-7 at halftime, but the defense held the Cavaliers scoreless and forced four fourth-quarter turnovers to key the 25-21 comeback victory.
A year ago, Smoot almost wasn't part of the team. After spending the summer wrestling, he didn't decide to try out until after football practice had started. Before this season, he had similar concerns.
"I wasn't even sure if I was going to come out this year because of the aspect of getting hurt in football, but Coach Lloyd asked me to come out again," said Smoot, who is weighing Division I collegiate wrestling options.
In fact, Smoot looked like he might be this year's quarterback, replacing graduated All-Met Zach Terrell, whom he had backed up last year. Smoot, however, stepped aside when former Brentsville player Jay Terrell, Zach's cousin, joined the Cougars.
"I told Todd that we needed him at running back and he never complained once to me," Lloyd said. "He is always doing what is best for the team."
Smoot this season has burrowed his way into defenses for nearly 1,000 yards rushing (he needs 61 Saturday to hit that mark) and 12 touchdowns. While the speedy Terrell has shredded defenses for 1,692 yards rushing and 30 touchdowns, Smoot has earned his yardage the hard way, squeezing into holes like he's shooting for a single-leg takedown.
"I'm not the biggest guy in the world, so I can fit through some of the small holes," Smoot said.
Lloyd often uses Smoot to eat up the clock and keep opposing offenses off the field. That is something the Cougars will surely want to do Saturday against Eagles running back Marquese Gray, who has 2,216 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground this season. Gray had two touchdowns and a 78-yard kickoff return for a score last week in a 36-6 win over King William, but the sophomore hurt his knee in the fourth quarter of that game and his status is questionable for Saturday.
If Gray does play, Smoot will be waiting
"I'm having a lot of fun on the football field because you get to hit people and you have teammates to celebrate with," Smoot said. "I wouldn't mind missing a couple more wrestling matches."