Kentucky’s best asset is her people. I’ve said that countless times on this site, and I’ll keep saying it because it’s the truth. 2022 has continually proven that to me on a much larger scale than I’ve ever witnessed.
As an Eastern Kentuckian, the past few months have been heartbreaking to watch, as the effects of the devastating floods continue to wreak havoc on so many people that had so very little to begin with. Visiting the area I called home until I was 21 years old, is difficult. I have several family members that have lost everything, and the cleanup will likely be ongoing for years to come. For many, a sense of “normalcy” may not be seen in their lifetimes.
So I decided it was time to find a bright spot in the hills where I’ll always call home. I wanted to find a story to help heal, something for folks to take an interest in and become invested in, something to show the heart and recisllency of those in Eastern Kentucky, and I finally found it, on a football field.
As I read story after story, 100’s of Facebook book posts, and saw so much devastation, I noticed a recurring theme. As difficult as things have been, high school sports, specifically football, became the unifying aspect of the community and that caught me most off-guard. I saw how many people gathered donations in the parking lots. How bake sales became fundraisers. How the football teams donated their time to help with cleanup. How the young folks on the field became this snapshot of the will and strength of those effected. It was staring at me the entire time.
Sports are an important part of our identities as Kentuckians, and many athletes have become these Legends in our lives. Especially those athletes that have been cut from the same cloth as us. The most recent example of this, is Kash Daniels. Daniels had a very strong football career at the University of Kentucky, after starring at Paintsville High School. He was a two-time Captain for the Wildcats. Eastern Kentucky needs another Kash Daniels to rally behind. A hero to cheer for. Someone they can be proud of.
As I searched for the inspiration for this article, I stumbled upon this article about the Hazard Bulldogs, and from there, I saw a young man that kept popping up in my research and he seemed as if he could fit that bill. The fact that he recently visited with the University of Kentucky football team, was the light bulb moment I needed.
Meet 6’4″ Athlete for the Hazard Bulldogs, Mr. Landon Smith. Landon plays many positions, but seems to thrive at Tight End, Wide Receiver and at the Strong Safety position on the defensive side. His wide frame and lengthy reach has tormented teams on both sides of the ball all season long. His play has also caught the attention of many collegiate scouts and has led to several official visits as well. Landon visited the campus of schools like UK, Vanderbilt, Eastern Kentucky University, University of Louisville, University of Cincinnati, Ole Miss, and more. He will be taking his official visits in the coming months. Landon’s future seems to be a bright one.
I have no idea where Landon will end up playing in College, but I do know that this young man, and his teammates have pushed through adversity most folks will never face in their lifetimes. I could have chosen anyone for this article, but I felt Landon exemplified the character and will of us, as Eastern Kentuckians. So I reached out to Landon and asked him some questions. Based on his answers, I believe that I made a great choice.
CK (Capture Kentucky): Landon, thank you for your time. I truly appreciate it.
LS (Landon Smith): Thank you for the opportunity.
CK: First, I want to ask you about the recent flooding in Eastern Kentucky. Seeing you help those in your community is really what gave me the inspiration for this article. So let’s start there.
How did the flooding affect you on a personal level?
LS: Well, my home, as well as my families homes and properties were all fine thankfully. I would say it affected me the most, just seeing what it did to my community and the place I call home. Seeing the people I’ve seen and known my whole life, now be without their homes and possessions, and some even dealing with the loss of life, it’s simply been heartbreaking to see.
CK: What lesson or lessons did you take away from helping those in such a dire situation?
LS: To never take anything for granted. Because it could be taken away from you in the blink of a eye. I saw how fast people went from smiling and living a normal life ine day, to losing everything they have over the course of a few hours. It really opened my eyes to the blessings that my loved ones and I have.
CK: Do you now feel a greater sense of pride when you put that Hazard jersey on, after all of your shared experiences off the field?
LS: Of course I do. I mean playing for Hazard is such a prideful thing to begin with, as it is such a tradition rich program filled with success. But knowing that we are playing for our community that’s been hit so hard, and for the people that we see almost daily, many of which has lost everything, we just know we are playing for a bigger purpose and we all feel that every time we step on a field.
CK: How will that help you on the field as you continue to develop as an athlete?
LS: Well, I’ve now learned to play every single snap like it’s my last. Because in truth, it very well could be. Also just playing with a purpose to bring success back to a community that needs it desperately right now.
CK: What surprised you most as you saw your community come together as one?
LS: I wouldn’t say anything really surprised me because we have many different kinds of people in these mountains. No matter the differences though, that’s just what we do here. We come together in times of need, we have each other’s back, and I think that is what really showed through all the tragedy we’ve all experienced.
CK: Let’s switch it up a bit and talk about your game. Obviously your receiving stats on the football field showcase the type of weapon that you can be in a great offense. What type of offense do you feel best suits your game?
LS: I really see myself fitting into a fast tempo run and gun style offense. I love to get after it, and put the pressure on the opponent. Playing that tempo makes it harder on them to line up and make adjustments to what you’re throwing at them. So I’d say just that I’m really best suited for a run and gun up-tempo offense.
CK: What are you looking for in a Coach and their staff?
LS: Honestly, I just look for honesty and effort. My plan is that I’m going to go play somewhere with the intentions of being there long-term and making an impact. I need to know I can trust the people around me, and that they have my best interest in mind. Also knowing that they want me there and that they will make my being there a priority. I want to play where I’m wanted.
CK: What aspect of your game do you feel is your strongest?
LS: I would say my Football knowledge. Just knowing where to be and how to get there. I watch a lot of film and study the game, so that really helps me understand the little details that could make a huge difference while I’m out there on the field.
CK: Say it’s 4th and goal with 30 seconds left in the game. You’re lined up at TE. It’s a play action, do you want the big block that allows the game winner, or do you want to go up and grab the dump off pass for the win?
LS: Well I want the ball and I want that responsibility to go get it and win the ball game for us. Of course, if my coaches thought it was best to run the ball behind me and me block for my teammate to score the game winner, I would line up and block with 110% effort and get my teammate in that endzone. If we get the win at the end of the day, that’s all that truly matters to me.
CK: Have you chosen a path towards a particular degree?
LS: Not yet. I’m still finding out what interests me and where I want to take my life in the future. It’s a difficult thing to decide, but a challenge I look forward to.
CK: What are you looking for on the educational side of the College or University that you suit up for?
LS: I want to go somewhere that is respected as much academically, as they are athletically. Somewhere that I know I’ll get a high level education. At a program that’s known for producing great athletes who are career ready young adults.
Very cool, Landon. I’m really glad we were able to do this. You’re a rising star as an athlete, but more importantly in my eyes, you’re becoming a great reflection of the family and community that has gotten you to this point. Your future is a bright one, on and off the field.