He began his career as a lean, mean 190-pound tackling machine and will end it as a 225-pound North-South all-star game participant. Stratford football player Cecil Smith stands out among the players Ray Stackley has coached.

Smith is a four year-starter for the Knights, and that’s quite an accomplishment. Stackley has been at the school for 29 years and said he has had only nine or 10 players who were four-year starters.

“He’s a rare player,” said Stackley, whose team travels to South Florence on Friday for a second-round Division II-AAAA playoff game. “Here’s a kid who grew up in the system. He weighed 185-190 pounds when he was a freshman. He was slim. Now, he’s a 225-pound linebacker who grew because he worked hard in the weight room. He’s evolved into a good football player.”

Smith began his career as an outside linebacker because he was good in space against receivers and was able to go sideline-to-sideline. But he beefed up and moved inside where he’s involved in tackles with running backs who are running north-south.

Whether it’s outside or inside, Smith has never stopped tackling. He has more than 400 career tackles, including 128 as a junior. He’s recorded 98 tackles this fall, including 72 solo stops. He’s logged 10 tackles for a loss and five sacks while returning an interception for a touchdown for a defense that allows only 13.6 points per game.

Smith says it’s an honor to be a four-year starter. He makes playing linebacker look easy. But it wasn’t always that way when he was in the ninth and 10th grades.

“It’s a privilege to play for Stratford and coach Stackley,” Smith said. “When I was a freshman, it was a new environment, so that meant I had to learn. I played well at time, but there were times when I came back down to earth and humbled myself.”

Stratford is 10-2 and can get revenge Friday against South Florence. The Bruins posted a 26-14 victory over the Knights on Nov. 1 and enter Friday’s game with a 12-0 record.

“We didn’t play well the first time,” Smith said. “We know what we have to do. We have to play four solid quarters of football.”

If the Knights can spring the surprise against the Bruins, there’s a good chance that they will get a chance to avenge their other loss, a 14-7 setback to Goose Creek on Nov. 8.

Goose Creek plays South Pointe and should win. If both Berkeley County schools win, the third-round of the Division II-AAA playoffs will be Chapter 2.

Smith hopes his final season of football takes him to Columbia to play in the state championship on Dec.7. He will play in the North-South game the following week at Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium in Myrtle Beach.

“Again, that will be a privilege and honor,” Smith said. “But all I am thinking about right now is helping my team.”