Five year finale

    The Portland State football team’s offense has been shaky and unreliable after losing top running back Joe Rubin last year. However, the Vikings’ fifth-year senior quarterback Sawyer Smith has been a constant force to be reckoned with.

    Over the years Smith’s game has gone through a rapid transformation. He started his career at Portland State as a highly touted red-shirt freshman with a cannon of an arm but not great touch. He immediately took over the backup position and saw limited action. During 2004, his sophomore season, he was finally able to see some playing time in six games.    

    Entering his junior season he finally had the starting role to himself. In his first full season he completed 149 of 272 passes for 1,709 yards, 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions through 10 games. He was sidelined in the season’s final game due to a broken thumb in his throwing hand. Although he continued to improve throughout the season, Smith was unable to lead his team back when they were down. With a dominant running game gone, his senior season would be his final test at greatness.

    After arguably the hardest football season in PSU history, with the team playing three Division 1-A opponents, Smith had a solid season. Although Smith was sidelined for two games with a hip injury sustained against Cal, he completed 100 of 188 passes for 1,497 yards, with 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine games. Three of those picks came against the stout Oregon defense.

    There are no statistics that show how much Smith has worked to improve as a quarterback. Smith’s better control of the game and improved touch allowed him to hook up with wideouts early and often. He had a career-long pass of 89 yards to wide receiver Kenneth Mackins that showed perfectly his ability to combine strength, vision and accuracy.

    ”He’s always had arm strength and everything, but he’s finally starting to learn how to put touch on the ball,” said senior wide receiver and Smith’s freshman-year roommate, Brendan Ferrigno. “Everyone around him has gotten better.”

    A native of Chehalis, Wash., Sawyer came to Portland State because of the school’s interest in his talent and his fondness for the area and the coaching staff. Another significant factor was the proximity of PSU to his hometown.

    “It’s only about an hour and a half away, so I knew it would give my family a chance to come watch my games. That was important to me,” Smith said.

    Smith, a natural athlete, participated in football, basketball and baseball in high school. While he concentrated solely on football for college, he still remains active in the other sports. He is an umpire for local high school baseball and attends as many PSU basketball games as possible.

    “You realize how much you love them once you don’t get to play them everyday, like I used to,” Smith said.

    Over the last five years Portland State has been everything he could ask for, according to Smith. He has met unforgettable friends and fallen in love with big-city life. Viking football head coach Tim Walsh has had a major impact on Smith. Walsh has taught him valuable lessons such as how to maintain composure and how to be the leader of a group of men.

    “The people I’ve met here through football, the coaches and players and the people around the program, are people that influenced my life,” Smith said. “They are going to be lifelong friends.”    

    As on most football squads, many lifelong connections have been made. Smith said that while playing alongside 90 other guys for an entire season, you grow close to the players on the team. He said that he will stay in touch with teammates from the past and present for many years to come.

    “You find some [teammates] that you do mesh with good, and you know that 20 years down the road I’m still gonna call them up and see how they’re doing,” said Smith.

    Smith has been a big part of Portland State football. He has earned Big Sky Player-of-the-Week honors three times this season, and the impressive team leader has been the offensive constant on a team struggling to move the ball.

    However, it won’t be the bitter loss of a playoff berth, the injuries or the big wins that Smith has helped orchestrate that he will remember the most. He said that the biggest thing that he’ll take with him is the friends he’s made along the way.

    ”He’s been a great friend of mine and he’s a guy that I know five years down the road I’ll still be talking to,” Ferrigno said.