Graham Smith doesn’t remember much about the accident, but the scars are there to remind him.
The scars show where Smith had surgeries to repair seven broken ribs and a collapsed lung following a car accident in March of 2014. After surgeries and rehab, a year away from football and a move to a different state, the Hammond quarterback is ready to make his return on Friday against Ben Lippen.
“I’m ecstatic,” Smith said this week. “This is what I have been ready for two years. I am ready to get at it.”
Smith was a three-year starting quarterback at Lurenborg Central High School in Victoria, Va. He led his team to deep postseason runs in his last two years and was starting to get looks from Division I schools.
Then, came that wintry day in March during his junior year. Smith was driving alone on a country road when his Yukon struck a patch of black ice, went off the road, slid into an embankment and hit a tree. The airbags in Smith’s car didn’t deploy and he never lost consciousness. He remained alert enough to tell the woman who found him his parents’ phone number.
Smith was taken to a hospital where he began the long road to recovery.
He missed the rest of his junior year of classes and went through two stays at Duke Medical Center in Durham, N.C. On June 23, 2014, he had another procedure at Bay State Hospital in Springfield, Mass., where doctors used a relatively new kind of treatment to help repair his ribs. Doctors put titanium plates to keep the ribs immobile while the damaged bones and tissues healed.
“They patched me up and made me as good as new,” Smith said. “I got a few nice marks from it, but it is a good reminder.”
Smith took classes on a part-time basis at Lurenborg last fall but wasn’t able to play football. In January, Smith moved with his family to Columbia. That’s where his father, Michael, was in the middle of starting a dental practice but put it off after the accident.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Smith enrolled at Hammond, but wasn’t cleared to take part in football activities until spring practice in May.There also was the process of petitioning the South Carolina Independent School Association to grant him an eight-semester waiver.
Hammond coach Erik Kimrey said the process took almost two months to complete, and the school had to supply SCISA with extensive paper work documenting his injuries and surgeries.
“His situation is precisely why this waiver happens,” Kimrey said. “SCISA granted it. It was pretty much a no-brainer. Anyone would have granted it. He still is only 17 so it isn’t like he is older than anyone else. He is a great kid, didn’t do anything wrong and has overcome a lot in his life to get to this point.
“We are excited to have him. He is still getting comfortable with our system but I expect big things. He can run, has a great pocket presence and can make those kinds of throws. When it breaks down he can make things happen as well.”
Smith gives the Skyhawks more of a passing threat at quarterback as they go for their second straight 3A state championship and 10th straight trip to the title game.
Smith is glad to be playing football again and never doubted he would be back on the field despite doctors’ early prognosis. Hesaid he hopes to continue his career in college and spent much of the summer traveling to camps and schools along the East Coast — including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth and William & Mary.
Kimrey says schools are waiting to see how he performs early in the season.
“It has been a long road and recovery process,” Smith said. “But it makes you appreciate what you have. It has given me a whole new perspective on life.”