Chau Smith’s future is in the defensive backfield, but the Simeon senior only has eyes for the present.
With the Wolverines missing four starters and — like the rest of the Public League’s Illini section teams — playing on short rest, they needed a big game from Smith on the other side of the ball Wednesday at Gately Stadium.
Smith delivered, running 18 times for 208 yards and a touchdown and adding a TD reception in Simeon’s 26-14 win over Taft.
Quarterback Jacquez Woodland threw two scoring passes and ran 16 times for 116 yards and a TD for Simeon (6-1, 4-0 Red Bird). Now the Wolverines wait to see if the Chicago Teachers Union strike, which began Thursday, ends soon enough for them to get the eighth game they need to be eligible for the IHSA playoffs.
Smith, a three-star prospect at cornerback with 13 Division I offers, wasn’t worried about any of that on Wednesday,
“I really just do what’s best for the team,” he said. “I needed to fill the spot and I just did it.”
That’s what Wolverines coach Dante Culbreath expected.
“Chau is our do-it-all guy,” Culbreath said. “He’s just a kid you can stick anywhere, a superb athlete.”
Smith showed that in the first quarter when he started left, darted back to the middle of the field and was off to the races for an 86-yard touchdown run. That followed Woodland’s scoring run and made it 14-0 Simeon with 24 seconds left in the quarter.
Taft cut the deficit to 14-7 on a 15-yard TD run by Dexter Stigall IV. But Woodland found Smith for a 12-yard TD pass on fourth down with 7.8 seconds left in the half.
There was no more scoring till the final five minutes of the game, when Stigall caught a 16-yard TD pass from Daniel Loch and Woodland hit George Gumbs with a 41-yard TD pass four plays later.
Now both teams shift to the waiting game.
“It is kind of frustrating because we did work hard,” Smith said. “And then for the strike to happen, that’s really unfortunate. ... We’ve just got to go with it. There’s nothing we can really do.”
Smith and his teammates can work out on their own, and likely will. Culbreath, who is a union member, said CPS officials have said certified coaches who are not CTU members can work with athletes during the strike too.
“We hope and pray ... they figure this thing out by Monday or Tuesday,” Culbreath said. “We are preparing for the state playoffs. Nothing changes, adversity is going to happen and we’re just going to keep working.”
Taft (5-3, 3-1) faced some challenges of its own, taking the long bus ride to Gately to play Perspectives on Saturday and then making another trip to the South Side four days later.
“It was a crazy week of prep,” Eagles coach John Tsarouchas said. “But we’ve got a great coaching staff; we got (the players’) bodies right, their minds right. We gave great effort tonight, but we made enough mistakes that we didn’t get it done.”
Stigall did a little bit of everything. He ran 10 times for 84 yards, caught four passes for 34 and even threw a 62-yard pass in a quarterback rotation with Loch.
“I think this was a statement game,” Stigall said. “Now that teams see us competing at a high level, they know we’re on the map.”