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Rick O'Brien: Lancaster Catholic armed, on target

Crusaders and QB Kyle Smith will test West Catholic.

Over the summer, Kyle Smith could have raised his stock considerably by going near and far to college camps and combines.

Instead, the record-setting quarterback opted to attend only three camps and focus on workouts and seven-on-seven passing drills with his Lancaster Catholic teammates.

"It's been detrimental to my recruiting, but I have no regrets about it," the 17-year-old said. "Our success as a team has validated my decision."

Sparked by Smith, the state's all-time leader in passing yardage and touchdown passes, the Crusaders are 13-1 and again within two victories of a PIAA Class AA state championship. Tomorrow, 1 p.m. at Coatesville High, they will take on West Catholic (12-2) in a semifinal rematch for the right to play in Hershey, Pa.

This season, Smith has completed 155 of 247 passes (62.8 percent) for 2,557 yards and 49 TDs, with six interceptions.

For his career, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound southpaw has thrown for 8,345 yards and 117 touchdowns, both state records. Two weeks ago, late in the first half of the District 3 championship win over Delone Catholic, he broke the old yardage mark of 8,162 set by Downingtown East's Pat Devlin, now at Delaware, in 2005.

"It was one of those things where I just wanted to get it over with and move on," Smith said. "I didn't want it to be a distraction for myself or the team. I'm sure after the season it's something I'll be able to savor."

With 49 touchdown passes this year, he is tied with Clearfield's Chad Kroell for the single-season state record. Kroell, who went on to Penn State, set that mark in 1994.

"If you let him sit in the pocket, he'll pick you apart," West Catholic coach Brian Fluck said. "You need to get him out of his comfort zone. We need to put pressure on him."

Despite his phenomenal passing statistics, Smith has scholarship offers from only Division I-A Akron and Division I-AA Richmond. Georgia has offered him preferred walk-on status.

"Ideally, I'd like to go play on a football scholarship," he said. "My parents [Mark and Laurie] grew up in Georgia, and Georgia was my favorite team growing up, so playing there certainly appeals to me."

Smith is also a top-notch performer in the classroom. He is ranked sixth in the senior class and has a 4.5 grade-point average on a weighted scale, with advanced-placement classes in physics and calculus and honors classes in English and religion.

"He's a super athlete, but more importantly he's an outstanding young man," Lancaster Catholic coach Bruce Harbach said.

Smith, also hearing from the Ivy League schools such as Princeton and Harvard, has racked up 8,345 yards in three varsity seasons. As a freshman, he played at the JV level.

In 39 games, the lefthander has connected on 491 of 767 passes (64 percent), with 17 interceptions.

"I'd like to think I can make all the throws," he said. "My biggest attribute, though, is probably my accuracy."

Smith, a first-team all-state selection last season, has a 34-5 record as a starter. This year, he sat out the Crusaders' only setback, a 42-12 loss to Class AAA semifinalist Manheim Central (14-0) in Week 3, with a high-ankle sprain. Expected to be out two to three weeks, he was back on the practice field in five days.

An erstwhile tennis player, Smith throws the javelin in track and field. His personal record is 216 feet. Last spring, he was the District 3 Class AA and state champion in the event.

Now the red-hot quarterback's attention is on avenging last year's 37-14 semifinal loss to West Catholic at Northeast. Sacked six times for a total loss of 44 yards, he passed 16 for 22 for 177 yards and a score.

"I'm definitely anxious to play the game," Smith said. "West Catholic is a great football team. It's a big test for us. Hopefully, we're up for the challenge."