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It's almost criminal how good Capone Smith is

He's named after Al Capone, one of the most notorious gangsters in American history.

But the only time Lackawanna High School senior quarterback Capone Smith becomes public enemy No. 1 is when you're assigned the unenviable task of trying to contain him on the football field.

"My dad [Raynal Smith] is a crazy guy," Smith said with an infectious grin. "I'm named after Al but I'm nothing like him. Now my dad doesn't even call me Capone anymore, he calls me Scarface."

Capone Smith has been proficiently carving up the opposition this season for the Steelers (7-0). The top-ranked squad in The Buffalo News' small school poll hosts Albion (3-4) on Friday night in the first round of the Section VI Class B playoffs. Lackawanna began this season with a 28-0 victory at Albion.

"When he gets out in front, you can't catch him," said Albion's Dick Diminuco, with 204 career victories Western New York's winningest active coach. "He's got such quick feet and is so elusive. He's very fast and because of his athleticism, he can change directions on you. He's very tough.
"This year, there's no question about it," said Diminuco, who will retire following this, his 30th season. "He's the kid who has scared me the most."

Whether you've coached football for 30 years or watched it for 30 minutes, it doesn't take Smith long to make you a believer.

As Lackawanna prepared for Albion, Smith was barking signals in practice on a raw day that felt more like the week before Thanksgiving than Halloween. Despite the gusty winds and occasional bursts of cold rain and wet snow, he froze the defense by bolting to his right.

On a dime, he stopped and in a split second whipped a bolt of a pass that appeared to be thrown nearly sidearmed, striking his moving receiver between the numbers in the back of a makeshift end zone.

Overcommit because of his running prowess and you're flirting with disaster, courtesy of Smith's right arm.

"I couldn't have made that throw two years ago, before I started lifting," said Smith, who is 15 of 30 for 176 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions this season. "When I was a sophomore I could bench press 165 pounds, now I max at 225 about four times. I didn't even start squatting until last year and now I can go 420. I can really tell the difference in my throws."

Attending a handful of quarterback camps and clinics, and participating in winter and summer high school passing leagues didn't hurt, either.

But passing is only one of the ways Smith can strong-arm an opponent.

"He's really geared up, the bigger the game is the more geared up he gets," said coach Bruce Lakso, whose Steelers are third in the state rankings. "He's done some unbelieveable things on the field. He's our leader and the kids follow him. He just runs with the ball. Literally."

Smith has carried 90 times for 1,252 yards, and six of his 11 rushing touchdowns have come from 41 yards and beyond. He's caught four passes for 66 yards and another TD. He punts, returns kickoffs and punts, and even plays on the kickoff team.

"He made a tackle on a kickoff right in front of the East Aurora bench last week that changed the momentum of the game," Lakso said of the 20-17 comeback win over the Blue Devils. "He just hammered the guy. And he can really cover."

So well, in fact, that Lakso foresees Smith's future as a possible Division I cornerback in college. Playing safety, he leads the Steelers with 69 tackles, has brought back two of his five interceptions for touchdowns, has two sacks, has caused a fumble and recovered another.

"Well, I like to hit people more than I like to get hit," Smith said shyly when asked about possibly playing defense in college. "But I know I'd miss playing quarterback and scoring all of those touchdowns."

In seven games, he has a total of 14 this season, plus five two-point conversions, for 94 points. That's more points than 23 teams around Western New York scored during the regular season.

Smith, who has started at QB for three years, doesn't rely strictly on his athletic ability. He estimates that during the season, he watches between 2 and 2 1/2 hours of film each day. Not gangster films, mind you, but game films.

He boasts an academic average in the low 80s and hopes to major in sports management in college. Lakso said he has gotten feelers from the University at Buffalo, Syracuse, Boston College, New Hampshire and North Carolina State -- where Smith's friend and former Steelers teammate Curtis Underwood is a running back.

"Growing up everything was football, football, football,"e said Smith, who also plays basketball and baseball. "I just hate when football season ends. I don't even want to think about it."

Considering the Steelers roll so far this season, that really would be a crime.

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Elsewhere

The News' No. 1-ranked large school also opens its playoff run Friday night when Orchard Park (7-0), ranked first in the state in Class AA, hosts Niagara-Wheatfield (2-5) -- a rematch of the Quakers' 47-6 road win last Saturday. Orchard Park has won its last 24 games against Section VI opponents.

No. 2 large school North Tonawanda (7-0) hosts No. 8 Clarence (4-3) in another Class AA quarterfinal. Though the schools did not meet this season, the Red Devils beat the Lumberjacks, 23-20, last year. With 328 points, NT is the second-highest scoring team in the area, five behind No. 5 small school Maple Grove (7-0), which hosts Brocton (4-3) in Class D.

In Harvard Cup play, resurgent three-time defending champion McKinley (2-3) faces Riverside (5-1 overall, 5-0 league) at 5 p.m. Friday at All High Stadium. The Macks, behind converted running back Kevin Chillis -- who has rushed for an incredible 783 yards in the last two games after starting the season as a wideout -- are looking for their third consecutive victory against the Frontiers, who are tied for first place with Grover Cleveland.

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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