“There is no royal road to learning; no short cut to the acquirement of any art.” — Anthony Trollope, “Barchester Towers”

Troy Smith wants to make crowds “ooh” and “ahh.”

The rising junior quarterback wants to make plays that will lead the Harker Heights Knights back to the postseason, and maybe even carry them a couple of rounds deep.

But, during this week’s Killeen ISD-hosted 7-on-7 league play, Smith described the pass-dominant 7-on-7 format as a tease.

“They are teasing us right now — they are teasing us with 7-on-7,” he said. “They give us a football and tell us to go play football, but we want to be physical and have a scoreboard and ‘ahhs’ and ‘oohs’ coming from the stands.”

The “teasing” is because the ultra-athletic Smith prefers to run and make plays with his feet — a skill that earned him the starting quarterback spot as a sophomore — rather than make the dink and dunk passes that 7-on-7 forces a quarterback to perfect.

But it’s in the ability to make those little dinks and dunks that Smith can learn the most from 7-on-7.

Shoemaker head coach Channon Hall said earlier this week, the main goal isn’t to “win the championship of 7-on-7.” But it should be to improve by working within the format provided.

And among all the returning starting quarterbacks in District 8-5A, Smith stands to grow the most from the quarterback-centric 7-on-7.

Because 7-on-7 isn’t “mostly just about our timing,” it’s about creating cohesion among the quarterback, receiver and running backs — a connection that resonates on the field come fall.

But 7-on-7 is also a tool to help quarterbacks ramp up their mental game, the one between their ears, so he can make better reads and better decisions to lead his teammates under the pressure-packed Friday night lights.

Smith’s natural ability to make things happen when plays broke down was a saving grace at times in a resurgent 4-7 season a year ago, including leading the Knights back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

Natural athletic ability can only take a quarterback so far, just ask Vince Young.

With Smith, what he can do with his feet is known. What’s not is his ability to lead and make proper decisions when the game is on the line.

Poor decision-making by Knights quarterbacks has been a linchpin problem in recent seasons. Not all 44 losses over the past six years have been the direct result of quarterback play, but it hasn’t helped matters.

Smith has the natural athletic ability and poise to change that, and turn an underachieving but talented Heights team into a true playoff contender.

Last season, the Knights backed into the playoffs, losing their last three games by a combined score of 141-35, including a 62-15 bi-district drubbing by DeSoto.

If Harker Heights is going to correct a trend that has seen it average seven losses per season since 2006, it’s going to start with Smith. And while the “oohs” and “ahhs” might be fun to hear in the summer, it’ll be the little things he learned in 7-on-7 that can lead to wins in the fall.

Contact Alex Byington at alexb@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7566

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