WAPELLO, Iowa — The Wapello football team has not experienced a losing season since 2015. Rhett Smith wasn't about to let this be the season that streak hit the reset button.
And with last week's 70-12 domination of North Cedar, the Indians moved to 3-2, which means the 2020 regular season will end with at least a .500 record for Wapello.
"Rhett plays football, basketball in the winter, does track and plays baseball," Wapello head football coach Todd Parsons said. "We need more kids to do that in order to give our programs a chance to be successful. He's active, he's a leader for all four sports that he plays."
Smith, a senior for the Indians, anchors an offensive line that returned four starters this year.
While the team had to turn the offense over to some relative newcomers in the absence of Ricky Pforts, who was the chief offensive weapon for the Indians over the past few seasons and now playing at William Penn, the offensive line has been instrumental in allowing Wapello to maintain an electric offense.
"We've progressed really well this year since Week 1," Smith said. "That first loss to Mediapolis was pretty tough on all of us. But we didn't give up ... We're ready for this week and for the playoffs."
While Wapello has had to spread the ball around a bit more this season, Smith and the line have made sure the Indians' production stayed in line with past years.
Even as all the scheduling reshuffling happened prior to the season, which left Wapello with six regular-season games, the Indians have amassed 1,324 rushing yards with a game remaining.
The Indians have a tough game slated for Friday night at home against Lisbon (4-2), but with another good day on the ground, Wapello could actually surpass last season's rushing yards total, when the team accumulated 1,550 yards in nine games.
Behind Smith and the Indian line, sophomore Jake Gustison leads the ground game with 537 yards on 68 carries and seven touchdowns. Wapello also boasts two other rushers, seniors Evan Ross and Keaton McConahay, with over 200 yards rushing and a third, sophomore Caleb Ealey, with over 100.
"The past couple years, it's always been Ricky. The line's been okay, but this year, we had four letter-winners return (on the offensive line)," Smith said. "That's been huge for us, we've paved the way for the good backs we have. We knew we were losing a really good running back in Ricky, but we also knew we had (Gustison, Ross and McConahay) behind him."
Gustison and Ealey each had two touchdowns in Wapello's last game while Ross added one and junior quarterback Tade Parsons threw for four and ran for another.
And Smith is far from a slouch on the defensive line. Quite the contrary.
"I think our guys are doing a really good job up front on both sides of the ball," Parsons said. "Rhett's become one of the better lineman in this area of the state and in Class A. We're excited he's on our team."
The senior is tied for the team lead in sacks this season with senior Caden Thomas with two and also in the mix for the team lead for tackles with 22.5, along with seniors Evan Ross (24), Keaton McConahay (23.5) and sophomore Caleb Ealey (20.5).
"Our senior class really helped the underclassmen not give up," Smith said. "We had a lot of kids put their heads down, and people got upset about our loss to Mediapolis. But we went through the adversity and kept them up.
"We've kept going, and the season has ended up going really well."
Being a three-year starter, Smith has shared the locker room with a lot of different teammates, but his commitment to making himself and every teammate he's had better players has remained remarkably consistent.
While Smith's football career is winding down, the senior has much left to contribute to Wapello athletics as a multi-sport athlete.
In preparation for his senior season, Smith even found a creative way around the summer quarantine.
"Rhett works extremely hard in the weight room," Parsons said. "During quarantine, he built a weight room in his garage and had some guys come out and lift. He's put the time in and he's reaping the benefits now."
But there will be more football in Smith's future. He plans to play next season at Division II Upper Iowa University.
"Coach Parsons hypes senior year every year," Smith said. "He always says the season will fly by. Week 1, he said that Week 7 will be here before we know it, and here we are. But the community has made for a great atmosphere."
"(Rhett) has earned everything he's got," Parsons said. "He's an excellent role model for our younger athletes. He's hardly missed a weight session in five years, he stays on top of his academics — he's got a great GPA — and he does the right things away from practice and the sports. He's a good person and treats people with respect. That's huge to me."
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