LAFAYETTE - Owen Smith thought he was ready.
Now, looking back, he can certainly say he was not.
But he wouldn't be where he is now without being thrown into the fire, so to speak.
"I know a lot more mental part of the game. I have learned a lot from coach (Brian) Phillips. All the coaches, really, but coach Phillips has been there with me a lot this year helping me with reads," Smith said. "I see the field better. Everything is a lot slower. I can really read a defense now. That is the biggest part of how far I’ve come since last year."
Last year, Smith was a sophomore and after coming in off the bench against Lafayette Jeff and performing admirably, he was elevated to starting quarterback a week later against Kokomo.
He's now started 12 consecutive games entering Friday's home contest against Lafayette Jeff, the team he saw his first varsity action against.
"Owen got to play second half against Lafayette Jeff. The growth he has shown between then and now has been impressive, just how he applies himself and how he works and understands the game," McCutcheon head coach Josh Strasser said. "He is still learning on a daily basis. He is still asking questions, even being a starting quarterback. He wants to get it right."
The offense can attest to that growth.
Senior receiver Kam Little has played with three different starting quarterbacks and is having his best individual season this year with Smith using Little as his No. 1 target.
"Last year his first game (starting) was Kokomo. He came into the game and I could tell the jitters," Little said. "Coming into this season, you can tell the jitters are gone. That is a positive. Being able to know that ball is coming in nice where it needs to be makes me a lot more excited to go get the ball."
Unfortunately for Smith, he knows defining his success as a quarterback is equated with wins.
Right now, he's 2-10 as a starter, both victories against Muncie Central.
"It is hard to see progress when you look at the win column last year versus this year because not much is different right now," Smith said. "It is hard to see all the progress we’ve made. In games, there’s not a lot of giving up, even when we are down a lot.
"We are putting together a lot of drives. One of our biggest problems is not being able to finish drives. We can go 90 yards and get in the end zone. That is huge for us."
When Owen Smith was named starting quarterback, he came equipped with a highlight reel of touchdown bombs.
He can still launch a football, but McCutcheon's system is designed for more accurate, shorter routes with the occasional deep ball mixed in.
"That is something I’ve focused on this year," Smith said. "I don’t think I’ve had very many big passing plays. But I think that’s good. It’s sometimes better to get short gains than shooting for a 50-yard bomb."
That shows after practices when he throws a series of routes to receivers.
When coaches relieve players of their daily regiment, it's often Smith choosing to stick around and try to improve his rapport with the McCutcheon receiving corps.
"He loves the game. That is what we try to do as coaches is help them relish in that situation, in this moment where they can play high school football," Strasser said. "We always try to tell them take advantage of it and make the most of it and just have fun with it. Owen does that, even just being able to go out and throw balls after practice."
Smith has grown as a quarterback.
He's also become the unquestioned leader of a program that feels like it could soon be on the verge of breaking out.
"I feel like I’ve gained a lot of experience and have some credibility as a leader," Smith said. "I am not just the new guy at quarterback that is supposed to be a leader. It is easier after gaining some experience and playing a year to be a leader on the team."
Sam King covers sports for the Journal & Courier. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @samueltking.
Lafayette Jeff (4-2) at McCutcheon (1-5)
Time: 7 p.m.
Sagarin ratings: Lafayette Jeff 78.35, McCutcheon 48.07
Series history: Lafayette Jeff has won 16 of 26 meetings, including five straight after a 62-21 victory last season.
About Lafayette Jeff: The Bronchos average 44.5 points and allow 18.3 per game. ... Lafayette Jeff's 22 passing yards last week is its second lowest in the last 10 seasons. Jeff had 17 passing yards in a 54-6 win over Lake Central last season. ... The Bronchos have outscored McCutcheon 234-50 in the last five seasons. ... Stat leaders - Passing: Keyen Crowder (38-67, 583 yards, 11 TD, 2 INT), Ethan Smith (16-22, 261 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT). ... Rushing: Glenn Patterson (71 car., 543 yards, 5 TD). ... Receiving: Abram Ritchie (13 rec., 273 yards, 4 TD), Asa Koeppen (9 rec., 210 yards, 5 TD). ... Tackles: Durya Minor (39), Jordan Scowden (35), Joshua Milian (35). ... Sacks: Scowden (2), Zachary Yuill (2). ... Interceptions: Damarion Jackson (1), Minor (1), Myron Harris (1), Micah Lillard (1). ... Kicking: Joel Garrido (29-30 PAT, 3-3 FG, long of 39).
About McCutcheon: The Mavericks average 18.5 points and allow 35.5 per game. ... McCutcheon's 17 rushing yards last week at Kokomo was its lowest total since gaining just 12 last season at Logansport. ... The Mavericks have scored 38 combined points during their current three-game losing streak. ... Stat leaders - Passing: Owen Smith (54-107, 662 yards, 3 TD, 5 INT). ... Rushing: Ivan Escalera (54 car., 337 yards, 2 TD). ... Receiving: Kam Little (24 rec., 354 yards, 1 TD). ... Tackles: Derrick Peete (47), Ty Woodward (45). ... Interceptions: Woodward (1). ... Kicking: Jury Grubb (10-10 PAT, 3-5 FG, long of 28).
Coach Strasser's take: "It presents a completely different challenge than what we saw against Kokomo. We’ve been taking steps forward. I don’t think we took a step forward last week against Kokomo. I thought we took two steps backward in our aggressiveness and how we initiated the game. We’ve got to have a great start against Lafayette Jeff. They bring a lot of athleticism. They probably have the best running back in the area. It’s a team if you don’t bring it, they are going to bring it to you."
This article originally appeared on Lafayette Journal & Courier: IHSAA Football: Owen Smith becoming more polished as McCutcheon quarterback