Kevin Smith isn’t a big fan of jewelry. Which is surprising, because he has plenty of rings.
“I don’t even wear a watch some days,” Smith said.
Then again, if he tried wearing all those rings, he might not be able to lift his hand. Super Bowl rings are pretty hefty, and he has three of them from his days as a cornerback with the Dallas Cowboys during the team’s reign of dominance in the 1990s.
But Smith learned how to be a champion long before he reached the pros. Even before his All-American days at Texas A&M.
He was part of two state championship teams in 1986 and 1987 with West Orange-Stark, going 28-2 over his junior and senior seasons. Playing both ways, he led the Mustangs’ only undefeated team to their second straight Class 4A title, pulling down 12 interceptions and nine touchdown catches in the process.
The leader of a golden age for the Mustangs, Smith will be inducted into the Texas Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, as part of the nine-member Class of 2016.
“As a little kid, my ultimate goal was just to put on a silver helmet, a West Orange-Stark silver helmet and play high school football. That’s the furthest I ever dreamed about football,” Smith said. “Playing in the Super Bowl and being an Aggie is great, but to be elected into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame says a lot, because ultimately, as a kid, that was my ultimate dream.”
Smith was infatuated with high school football before he was old enough to play for a team. Growing up in Orange, about a half-hour east of Beaumont, he was exposed to the fierce rivalries and competitiveness that brewed in the area on Friday nights.
“A lot of the schools are now merged, but we had so many different schools and different colors,” Smith said. “I was infatuated with the Port Neches-Groves and Port Arthur Lincolns and Thomas Jeffersons and West Brooks and Heberts and Charlton-Pollards.”
Smith came through the West Orange-Stark program at just the right time. The Mustangs went 18-4-1 over the 1984 and ’85 seasons at the 5A level, so when then they dropped to 4A with a loaded team in time for the 1986 season, many pegged them as a potential championship contender.
They were right. After two early-season losses, West Orange-Stark won eight games in a row for the program’s first state title and finished the season 13-2.
“We had some great guys on that team,” Smith said. “We kind of came out slow, but we picked it up and we won state. We were supposed to win state, because we had just played (Houston) Jack Yates, the team that had won state the year before in 5A. We played them real close.”
Strangely enough, the 1987 team was supposed to drop off, as most of the talent from the previous season had graduated. Smith was one of the few standout players that returned, and he was tapped as the leader of the group.
He embraced that title, earning all-state honors while playing receiver and cornerback. West Orange-Stark steamrolled its opponents throughout the year with a stout defensive unit, pitching five shutouts and averaging 5.3 points allowed per game.
“That year was the year that we really weren’t picked to win it all, but it all came together with a young team,” Smith said. “Being a senior on that team and being a leader, that meant a whole lot more.
“For us to come back-to-back and be undefeated with a team that really was young, that meant a lot.”
Smith was just as successful in college, pulling down 20 interceptions and breaking up 32 passes for Texas A&M records that still stand to this day. He also perfected his craft at returning kicks, setting Aggie records in yardage (289) and touchdown returns (3). He scored six touchdowns on special teams in 1991, which earned him All-America recognition.
He was drafted by the Cowboys with the 17th overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft, and spent his entire career in Dallas up to his retirement in 2000. Half of the team’s deadly cornerback tandem alongside Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, he won Super Bowls XXVII, XXVIII and XXX and was an All-Pro selection in 1996.
By never playing for another NFL team, he spent his entire football career in the state of Texas, from start to finish.
“It kept me abreast with what was really going on in Texas football,” Smith said. “It was easy for my parents to travel and get to the games. Not many guys can say that.
“I never went to go play for another team. I had the opportunity to go play for the Saints and the Dolphins. I just felt that if I left the state of Texas that it wouldn’t be playing real football.”
Smith was in attendance for West Orange-Stark’s state championship victory last season, the team’s first since Smith’s senior year in 1987. The Mustangs’ head coach, Cornel Thompson, was his defensive coordinator for the first two titles.
Even 29 years later, Smith saw plenty of familiar faces at the game. Many of the current West Orange-Stark players are the sons of his high school teammates, now celebrating a championship just like he did nearly three decades ago.
“It was good for the city,” Smith said. “Orange has been hit by a bunch of hurricanes and tornadoes and weather and floods. So they’ve dealt with a lot, and the one thing that keeps that city afloat is the spirit of the football team. It meant a lot for not only coach Thompson but for the whole city.”