Memorable ride for Callaway’s Jabari Smith
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
For a freshman who’d spent the entirety of the game on the sidelines, it was a stressful moment, but Callaway High’s Jabari Smith was up to the challenge.
During the quarterfinals of the state playoffs in 2016, Smith was called upon to be a part of the kickoff return team during the fourth quarter.
Smith, figuring he would be a blocker, instead found himself as the return man when the ball ended up in his hands.
“Jibrell (Jackson) was hurting, and they didn’t want to risk him getting injured on special teams, so they threw me in that spot,” Smith said. “I got in one play, and it was on a kickoff return, and they actually did kick the ball to me. I returned it for like 10 yards.”
That play, which in the big picture might not seem that impactful, was nonetheless a key moment during a thrilling game.
Callaway won 35-34 when Braylon Sanders caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from Dylan Johnson in the game’s final moments.
That was the start of what was an outstanding high-school athletic career for Smith, who was a standout in football and baseball.
In football, Smith was a fullback, linebacker, and defensive lineman over the course of his four years, and he helped Callaway make three trips to the state semifinals.
Smith was an outfielder and pitcher in baseball, and he was a part of two teams that reached the state semifinals.
“When you look and see how far you’ve come from where you started, it’s a sense of accomplishment,” Smith said.
In football, Smith took on a handful of different roles while helping the Cavaliers make it to the state semifinals in 2016, 2018 and 2019.
Smith started as a fullback before moving to linebacker, and for his senior season he made the transition to the defensive line.
Smith finished his senior season with four sacks and 10 tackles for loss on a team that reached the state semifinals before losing to Brooks County.
Smith was also an important player in baseball as a multi-year starter, and he was a part of the teams that reached the state semifinals in 2017 and 2019.
“Jabari Smith is first class,” said Callaway head football coach Pete Wiggins. “He’s got a great family, and he represents his family extremely well. I think he’s a program player, and I’m not just talking about football. He was such a contributor in baseball as well. He was on a lot of good teams, and around some really good players. He’s always been a huge contributor, both on the football field, and the baseball field.”
Dusty Hubbard, Callaway’s head baseball coach and defensive coordinator, said Smith was always 100 percent reliable, no matter the sport.
“He was a kid you could count on, that you knew was going to give you everything day in and day out,” Hubbard said. “There wouldn’t be a lot of hoopla, a lot of talking, but you love having people like that on your team.”
Smith excelled at linebacker as a junior, and before his senior season he was asked to make the move to the defensive line.
Smith did it without complaint, which didn’t surprise Hubbard.
“A lot of kids, their ego wouldn’t allow them to make that move from linebacker to defensive line. But he had no problem with it,” Hubbard said. “He bought into it, and that’s the kind of kid he is. He’s always accountable, he’s never a problem in the class room, and teachers love him. Then he gets out on the field, and he’s one of those guys that shows up day in and day out and gets better. He’s the kind of guy you’ve got to have on your team if you’re going to be successful.”
Toward the tail end of Smith’s senior season he was battling a leg injury, but he continued to play and contribute for a team that came within two victories of a state championship.
“The last two or three games, he wasn’t practicing,” Hubbard said. “He was just going through walk-throughs on Thursday, and then going out and giving us everything he could on Friday nights, and then it would start over on Monday.”
Playing two sports was challenging for Smith, but he managed to succeed not only on the playing field, but in the class room.
“Physically, it’s tough (playing two sports),” Smith said. “If you can look past that, like most good athletes can, then the mental part is the most important part of doing more than one sport, and any sport period.”
With high school behind him, Smith is ready for the next step.
Smith signed a letter of intent to play football at Faulkner University (Ala.) in February, and he’ll be a freshman on the team this fall.
It will be an adjustment, but Smith believes being a member of the Callaway football team has helped prepare him for the challenge.
“Playing at Callaway, I’ve probably gotten more preparation than most do,” Smith said.
Wiggins is proud to see Smith get an opportunity to play in college, and he believes he will excel.
“He got better each year,” Wiggins said. “We had high hopes, and high expectations of him from the first day we met him. I think he grew as a player each year, and he did a lot of great things for us his senior year. So, I’m really proud of him and his work ethic, and he’ll do special things down the road.”