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Scholar athlete: Cathedral lineman’s moves bring laughter to the locker room

Cathedral High School offensive lineman Jake Smilo, left, participates in practice drills Wednesday afternoon at the school’s football field. Smilo, who has approximately a 3.0 grade-point average, is someone the team rallies around, head coach Ron Rushing said. (Justin Sellers \ The Natchez Democrat)
Cathedral High School offensive lineman Jake Smilo, left, participates in practice drills Wednesday afternoon at the school’s football field. Smilo, who has approximately a 3.0 grade-point average, is someone the team rallies around, head coach Ron Rushing said. (Justin Sellers \ The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Sometimes after a win, Cathedral High School senior Jake Smilo will cause a few laughs in the locker room.

Borrowing from the 1985 movie “The Goonies,” Smilo does the “truffle shuffle,” where he lifts his jersey and rapidly shakes his chest. The ritual began when Smilo was an eighth-grader and stuck with the team ever since.

“When I was in eighth grade, one of the seniors made me do it.” Smilo said. “I just kept doing it. I won’t do it if we win but didn’t play as a team. But if we played a good game and won, I’ll do it.

“I’m a mediocre dancer at best, but I’m good at that one particular one.”

Smilo isn’t all fun and games, however. He has approximately a 3.0 grade-point average, and Green Wave head coach Ron Rushing said Smilo is an intelligent player that brings a lot to the team.

“He’s one of those kids that takes the words you tell him and tries to understand them,” Rushing said. “A lot of the kids just do what you tell them. He learns the ins and outs of what he’s doing.”

Rushing also said Smilo is someone everyone at Cathedral likes, which goes a long way in his ability to help lead as a senior.

“He has a great personality, and all the kids rally around him,” Rushing said. “He’s definitely one of our leaders. He’s looked upon highly by all his classmates and teammates.”

As one of the key cogs on Cathedral’s offensive line, Smilo said he and the rest of the linemen take pride in allowing quarterback Thomas Garrity to excel as a passer.

“We have people that (started) last year, and we have people that played last year and are starting this year,” Smilo explained. “We try to set a good example, and we try to work with each other and give Thomas enough time (to throw) to where he doesn’t have to scramble around.”

Rushing said he’s enjoyed watching Smilo develop as a lineman, and Smilo has been with Rushing for Rushing’s entire coaching tenure at Cathedral.

“He’s a great kid, and he’s come a long way and is a hard worker,” Rushing said. “He’s as coachable as anyone I’ve ever had, and his technique is as good as anyone on our team.”

Technique is important, Smilo said, since the Green Wave often face defensive lines that have a size advantage.

“We’ve always been good at pass blocking, which is good for us,” Smilo said. “We’re not very big, so we have to have good technique.”

Balancing time between practice, games and schoolwork can be difficult, especially after a Friday night, Smilo said.

“After a hard-fought game, even all the way through Sunday and Monday, you’re sore and tired, and you don’t want to do schoolwork,” Smilo said. “But you have to.”

The trick, Smilo said, is to not let any time go to waste — if there’s a small window, do a little bit of homework. He also said taking time to unwind helps put the mind at ease.

“It seems to get easier later in the season, because you’re in better shape and know what to expect more,” Smilo said of fighting through the soreness and getting homework done.

After high school, Smilo said he plans to attend a junior college for two years before transferring to a university. He is the son of Maria and Ron Smilo.