He was about to start the first of 49 varsity football games he played for his father and coach, Jeff Smith, and he wondered what he should call him on the field, in the locker room and during any football activity.
“I said, ‘I’ll tell you what to call me, call me dad. I’m your dad first, then I’m your coach,’” Jeff Smith said.
The father-son duo has stuck to that. However, instead of having a coach-quarterback relationship this fall as they’ve had the last four years, Judd will serve as a volunteer assistant under his father. During the spring, he will work as a student assistant for the Wallace State-Hanceville baseball team.
“I’ve always wanted to be a coach. I simply didn’t think of anything else I could be good at,” Judd said. “I’ll do everything the same that dad does here because he’s been a good role model. I look forward to coming back to work with dad, but I’d eventually like to be the head coach at a small school then work my way up to a bigger school.”
Jeff said they have a close family that works their lives around football. Jeff and his wife, Lisa, have three children: Judd; daughter Leah, a rising seventh-grader who is a junior high cheerleader; and son Jett, a rising fifth-grader.
The story of Jeff and Judd and their sports relationship goes back to when Jeff was head football coach at Ohatchee from 1997-2002. Judd played baseball, and when he was 7 and 8, his father served as his coach.
Judd started playing football in first grade, but it wasn’t until after the family moved to Hueytown in 2003 that Judd played for his father. While Jeff was head coach for the school’s Class 6A varsity football team, he also kept a close eye on his son, a running back for the junior varsity squad.
As part of a lineup change, Jeff moved his son to quarterback before the Hueytown junior varsity spring game against Hoover in 2008.
“Judd knew what everyone was supposed to do so well, and it wasn’t that I wanted my son to be quarterback — it was that he could help the team so much,” the coach said. “A lot of time we look at the quarterback as a guy who will throw for 300 yards, but Judd brought management to quarterback.”
With Judd at quarterback, Hueytown won 14-0, beating a group of Hoover players that won the Class 6A state championship last November as upperclassmen.
That would be the only win Judd would have as a Hueytown quarterback, however. In mid-June, Jeff got a call from his alma mater, Wellborn, offering him the head coaching job.
“All of my family lives in Calhoun County and went to Wellborn, and I was looking forward to a new challenge,” Judd said. “It was tough at first and I was nervous, but I didn’t want to look bad in front of anybody, so I kept motivating myself that I didn’t want to let anyone on the team down.”
Judd’s confidence grew after he stepped on the practice field knowing the wing-T offense like the back of his hand, after studying the offense his dad had run the previous 12 seasons.
“When I was going into ninth grade at Hueytown I already knew most of the plays. Since then, I just got better of knowing what to do and everyone’s spot,” Judd said. “I love the offense. When I go into coaching, I’m going to run the same stuff, too. It always works.”
Numerous memories were made over the next four seasons with Judd as Wellborn’s starting quarterback, but one of Jeff’s strongest came from the first time father and son stepped onto the field together.
“We were ready to play Saks in 2009, walking up the steps in the locker room and about to go on the field,” the coach recalled. “I remember my feet felt like they weighed 100 pounds, but before we ran out, Judd reached over and hugged me. And when we were running on the field you could see people in the crowd hugging each other and crying. You could feel the unity and happiness that everyone had.”
The unity of the tightly knit community shined even brighter later in the 2009 season when Wellborn defeated White Plains in Week 9 to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
The team was coming off back-to-back 1-9 seasons and had made the playoffs only once in the previous seven years.
“It wasn’t as much the game I remember as much as I remember what happened afterward,” Jeff said. “After the end, our players shook hands and the players and went into the stands and were hugging the fans. I can still remember turning around and seeing the fans hugging the fans in the stands and people crying and being so happy that the program was winning again. This community lives and dies with this program.”
With the younger Smith managing the offense, Wellborn made the playoffs all four seasons he started, putting together a combined 27-19 record. During his senior season, Wellborn went 9-3, advanced to the second round of the Class 2A playoffs and scored 488 points, second-most in school history.
And although Judd doesn’t record the numbers other quarterbacks do, his success had a simple cause — he loves to study the game.
“Judd’s like a football geek,” Jeff said with a laugh. “I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and get up to get something to drink and he’s sitting on the couch watching film at 1 a.m. We’ll watch film during spring break. When he’s at home with nothing to do, he’s going to watch a highlight tape or game film. That’s what he likes to do.”
And the quarterback’s career with his father won’t end with graduation, which happened Thursday. Judd’s love for film and the details of the game will return to The Hill on Friday nights in the fall, as the Smiths’ legacy continues at Wellborn.
“Judd’s always been with me,” Jeff said. “We’re looking back through the last 10 years that he’s always been a manager or player for me. Judd has always been on the sideline with us. Being a football family has made us closer.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.