By Robert Lucke
MSU-Northern sophomore Tanner Smith is the kicker for the Northern Lights football team. That is about all that he has in common with most other kickers. That, and the fact that he has been iced by the opposition and by his own team.
Kickers traditionally are streaky guys who are misunderstood by the coaches and spurned by other team members. Not so with Smith.
At 5'11" and 265 pounds he is anything but ignored by his coaches and team.
Tanner Smith was born and raised in Missoula, but enjoys Havre where his roots are strong and deep.
"My mom was telling me to say that her mother, Jean Shelby, graduated in elementary education from Northern and went on to teach at Lincoln-McKinley in Havre," said Smith.
Both Smith's parents lived in Havre for a period of time and were graduates of Havre High. Yet today, he has a grandmother in Havre and has two cousins from Havre as his roommates.
If those were not deep enough roots, consider this. Smith's father and uncle played football for the last Northern team. Last year was Tanner's freshman year playing for the first Northern football team in many years.
Smith was a kicker for four years at Sentinel High School in Missoula. His kicking and the teams' record were not the greatest.
"In the four years at Sentinel, we won one game," said Smith, grinning. "So there was not a lot of demand for a kicker. Not only that, but my dad was one of the assistant coaches so I did catch some flack. In four years of high school I never attempted a field goal and my record of extra points was 21 out of 23."
Playing for the Lights last year, Smith's record was 7 out of 9 for extra points and 1 for 1 in field goals. So far this year, he is 5 out of 6 for extra points and 0 for 2 in field goals.
One thing that is the same for Smith as with many kickers it is a streaky business.
"I am not in a streak now, but it can be. If you miss and that gets in your head, you can be in trouble for quite awhile," said Smith. "But then most kickers are small and scared. I am not."
And then there are the whole Northern football team and coaches not typical either.
"The whole team is really close and the coaches are always here late and they are there to talk to when you need them. I really needed to talk to them my freshman year. It was a bit of a shock in Havre," said Smith.
Having family here really helps. Tanner's cousins are strong supporters of the Lights' team and are both students at Northern.
Smith is majoring in elementary education. He really likes children and thinks he would be happy teaching school. But like most football players, there is that other buzzing in his head as well.
"I love working with little kids, but you know I'd like to try my hand at coaching college football. I write letters to Bobby Bowden at Florida State and Joe Paterno at Penn (State) and they write back. I think I will be coaching some day. Hopefully," he said wistfully.
The Bucks and Pats are Smith's NFL teams.
he Grizzlies and Washington Huskies are his college teams except for Northern, that is.
"I live and die Lights' games," said Smith with a laugh.
What about the rest of the year when not playing football? Smith is still living and dying football.
"I want to win a conference championship so bad. I want this team to do good. I help the coaches with recruits. I check out their dorm rooms and I take them to the food service. Hopefully, they will sign here," added Smith.
Smith knows that his team is young and agrees with his coaches that they will come into their own and soon.
For homecoming this year, the Lights play Montana Tech, a team that is as good as it gets in this conference, according to Smith. He thinks Northern will beat Tech 21 to 17.
And best of all, when on the field, in class, recruiting and living in Havre, Tanner Smith is the kind of a person who makes others want to go to Northern and be a part of the Havre community.