By Morgan Bryce
Five years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears came to end for senior fullback Henry Smith T at the end of Opelika’s 21-16 loss to Ramsay in the 6A state championship game.
“It was a pretty tough loss … the sting is still there. What I’ll miss most about playing football is the camaraderie with my teammates and the relationships I’ve built,” Smith T said.
Smith T, the son of Opelika city councilman Dozier and pediatrician Sara, began playing football for Opelika city schools in the seventh grade. Over the past five seasons, he played a number of different positions on the gridiron, and this season, contributed as a second-string fullback and special teams player.
His years of sacrifice and dedication to the game he loved did not go unnoticed by his teammates and coaches. Smith T was nominated by OHS assistant coach Ben Landers for the Brandon Burlsworth Award, given to players who show exemplary character, work ethic and sportsmanship.
He said he was both shocked and honored by the recognition.
“Every day, I tried to work really hard and do my best. When I think about everyone else on the team, it really makes me feel very honored to receive this award because there are so many other hard-working guys on the team,” Henry said.
The OHS football team watched a movie earlier this year called “Greater,” which tells the inspiring and tragic story of Burlsworth.
“I was impressed with the kind of man he was and how hard he worked,” Henry said.
Burlsworth, a former All-American right guard for the University of Arkansas football team, began his Razorback career as a walk-on in 1994.
A majority of college football walk-on players never have the opportunity to suit up and play on Saturdays, but the dedicated Burlsworth set his sights from his first season to become a starter for the team he loved.
In his four years at Arkansas, Burlsworth received back-to-back first team All-SEC honors, named a first-team member of the 1998 All-American college football team, and earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
After a highly successful collegiate career, NFL scouts saw next-level talent in Burlsworth, and was a third-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts, who were planning to pencil him in as their starting right guard for the upcoming season.
Eleven days after being drafted, Burlsworth was involved in a fatal car crash.
Since his death, football camps, a national foundation and trophies and awards were named in his honor.
The Burlsworth Award, created in 2005, was at first limited to Arkansas-only high school players, but in honor of “Greater’s” release this year, became national award.
Henry is Opelika’s first Burlsworth Award winner, and OHS head football coach Brian Blackmon said no one else was more deserving of the recognition.
“Henry Smith T is a great kid from a great family. He was a tremendous student athlete and player, and embodies everything we want for a player in our program,” Blackmon said. “He was an integral part of our team, and is a very unselfish player. He was a great teammate, and somebody that deserved that kind of award.”
Smith T’s plans are to major in pre-med at Auburn University, and plans to apply the same tenacity and toughness in the classroom that he did on the football field.
“I’ve always told myself that if I ever fail, I never want it to be that I didn’t work hard. I always try to do my best in everything so that’ll never happen,” Henry said.