January 10, 2011

Bowdoin's Smith Grows on Coaches

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

A four-inch and nearly 40-pound growth spurt transformed Kit Smith from a player Bowdoin coach Tom McCabe thought would contribute his junior year to a two-time All-American heading into his final season for the Polar Bears.
© Brian Beard

When Bowdoin men's lacrosse coach Tom McCabe recruited Kit Smith, he sought the individual more than the lacrosse player.

"He's just a great kid. It started with that," said McCabe. "I followed him at camps because I knew him, but he didn't do anything that stood out."

Smith, who went to Brunswick (Maine) High School, located in the same town as Bowdoin, had a knack for lacrosse. But as a 5-foot-10, 170-pound midfielder, he wasn't a player who took your breath away. Same went for ice hockey: decent two-way player; solid, but not spectacular.

Even when he was named the winner of the Travis Roy Trophy – given to the best hockey player in the state – after his senior year and expressed an interest in playing for the Polar Bears, he received a cautious response.

"He was the Roy winner, which is significant, and it wasn't like we were saying there's nothing there," said Terry Meagher, Bowdoin's head hockey coach for the past 28 years. "You just don't know. There's quite a leap between Maine public high school and competitive college sports. Not that kids can't do it, but a lot of them take a [post-grad] year or play a year of juniors. We kind of felt the same thing for Kit. Maybe he can develop, learn to play with pace and play with puck pressure."

Smith, however, did not want to wait a year before attending college. Due to both a love for Bowdoin and the lack of interest from other schools, he stayed with his hometown school.

"I sent a couple of e-mails out to coaches, and I really didn't get a whole lot of positive feedback from anybody," he said. "A lot of them didn't even respond. The only other team that gave me any positive response was Colby. When it came down to it, I thought Bowdoin was a better fit for me. Coach Meagher and Coach McCabe were fine with me playing two sports, so I was just happy to keep playing competitive sports through my college years."

As they evaluated the recruiting class of 2011, both McCabe and Meagher put Smith in the project category.

"I saw him being able to compete as a junior when we originally recruited him," said McCabe. "I believed in him, I just didn't think it was going to happen very quickly."

Everything changed the minute he walked on campus.

"I hit a little growth spurt from the summer before I got here through the fall," said Smith.

There was nothing little about it. In just a couple of months, Smith grew four inches and added 40 pounds. He had transformed into a 6-foot-2, 210-pound bruiser who benefitted from a regimented weight-lifting program.

Along with his newfound size, Smith received a boost of confidence on the first day of hockey tryouts.

"I remember the first practice, Coach Meagher skated up to me after we were halfway done and said, 'Kit, you don't stand out!' I thought about it for a minute," said Smith. "Then he said, 'That's a good thing. You're not too far behind everybody.' At that point I thought, 'Hey, I can play with these guys. We'll see where it goes from here.'"

Smith played in nearly half the games for a 17-7 team before heading out to the lacrosse field. The transition from using one group of leg muscles to another stunted the start of his season, along with the level of competition.

"Coming into my first lacrosse practice, I hadn't really picked up a stick in a while because of hockey, and everyone else had been working hard in the offseason," said Smith. "It was sort of a wake-up call for me; college lacrosse is quite a bit faster, and the players are stronger than my high school opponents. For a while, it was just sort of me catching up with the rest of the team."

It didn't take long.

"His freshman year he was on the bench at the start," said McCabe. "[Former Bowdoin assistant and current Harvard head coach] Chris Wojcik was with us and I said, 'Chris, we've got to find a way to get Kit on the field.'

"Somebody got hurt on the second midfield line and we put him in. He was unbelievable. He had a couple of goals. The next game we moved him up to the first midfield. And then the next game after that he was getting the pole. That's how quickly his ride happened. We weren't real bright, I guess."

Despite themselves, it turned out, Bowdoin's coaches pulled off a coup by getting Smith on campus. Had Smith played junior hockey and worked on his shot – the only weakness in the hockey game, Meagher said – he might have played at the scholarship level and beyond. With his blend of size and speed, along with a stinging shot out of the midfield, there's little question he would have made a Division I lacrosse roster if he had likewise taken a post-grad year.

But Smith will not get lost in the what-ifs.

"I've thought about it a little bit," Smith admitted about playing at a higher level. "But I'm really happy where I am at Bowdoin. I think it has been a great opportunity. I thought about the year in the juniors or the PG year, and I just thought I was ready to head to college. When I start thinking about doing this or doing that, I'll just focus on what I can accomplish at Bowdoin."

Smith's accomplishments to date have been considerable. He has missed just one hockey game in the last three seasons and helped the Polar Bears advance to the NCAA tournament last spring, playing both as a forward and defenseman. He is a co-captain for this winter's team.

"We play him at multiple positions, and he's as diverse a player as we've ever had here," said Meagher. "That's pretty impressive for a kid with his hockey background, to come here and play both in the back and front. If we ask him to do something new, he just embraces the challenge, and that's what makes him special. He's a quiet, soft-spoken kid, but when he gets between the glass he just changes. He's a clean player, too. He could hurt people, but he doesn't. But he plays at such a high, competitive level."

After finishing third on the lacrosse team in goals his freshman year while helping Bowdoin reach the NCAA tournament, Smith has received All-American honors the past two season, scoring 41 goals and dishing out 11 assists in that span.

"He's best with the ball in his stick," said McCabe. "He'll beat the No. 1 guy and then he'll run over the slider because he's just so big and strong. He'll make the right pass if he has to. He's a kid where I don't give him parameters in regards to his shooting. As long as he's inside the restraining line, we always give him the green light."

Smith's transition between seasons is speedy. He traded his hockey stick for a lacrosse stick in one 72-hour window last year.

"He played in the NCAA hockey game on a Saturday, jumped on a plane to Texas on Sunday morning with us, and then scored our first goal against Western New England on Monday," said McCabe.

"He's an old-school gamer," added Meagher. "He has the love and the passion. He's a throwback. We could have played the game last night and I could have said, 'Kit, lacrosse is having a scrimmage at Colby at 10 p.m.' He'd say, 'Coach, I'm going to go. Do you mind?'"

He may not have been a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school, nor the loudest guy in the room. He's certainly not the flashiest player.

But after a while, Kit Smith has a way of growing on you.

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