Two years ago, he stood inside the Von Braun Center and watched his brother, Dustin, become Ranburne’s first wrestler to ever reach the state tournament.
Matt said after watching Dustin, he didn’t see what was so hard about it.
“I told him, ‘If you can do it, I know I can do it,’” he said standing in that same building on Friday.
Smith proved he could. And then one upped his older brother.
Today in the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 1A-4A finals, Smith will wrestle for the school’s first state championship in the sport. The senior takes on multiple state champion Dillan Campbell of Oak Grove in the 220-pound finals.
“I can’t really explain it,” Smith said of his quick rise. “It’s just feels right.”
If it feels right to Smith, to others, his connection to the sport just looks right. He said all through his life his coaches have always called him, “tough as nails.” And that was long before he inked his hulking forearms: The Chinese symbol for power on his right, a script “Relentless” on the left.
State championship coach Piedmont coach Harley Lamey had other words to describe him: “He’s just strong. Mean,” Lamey said. “He wrestles with a little bit of an edge … attitude.”
Smith, 52-2 on the season, proved the words to the state in Friday’s matches leading up to today’s final. He pinned Susan Moore’s Dalton Farmer in 51 seconds and took down St. Clair County’s Levi Green in 3 minutes, 19 seconds.
Today test doesn’t figure to come as easily. Campbell is an undefeated 67-0 on the season and earned his finals berth with two pins coming in 4:44.
Smith knows there are a lot of others with much more technique than he has been able to cram into his two-year crash course to the sport. He said he relies on his strength to win his matches, where he estimates his superiority has led to 80 percent of his wins.
And that’s part of the road that led him here, too, “it’s really just genetics,” he said.
While brute strength may have gotten him a long way, his coach Jay Harland said his pupil has made immense improvements in his two years.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “Other people can’t either. I tell my guys some of these people have been wrestling since elementary school.
“… He just watches everything, and somehow, he’s just able to pick up on what he sees real quickly.”
Win or lose today, his two year fling with sweat and singlets will likely come to a close. Smith said he knows he wants to go to college, but hasn’t had any offers to wrestle at the next level.
But as the chapter closes, Harland said it’s hard to believe how it’s all turned out. He also said it’s hard not to let his mind wander.
“I think all the time,” he said, “what if he’d been doing this all along.”
Bran Strickland is the assistant managing editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3590 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.