Heading into the 2019 season, questions were all over regarding Lion football. Would David Bailiff keep the success rolling in Commerce? What changes would be made? Would the Lions have the personnel to adapt to those changes?
Then, there was the question, who is going to play quarterback? Kane Wilson, the 2018 starter decided to forgo his final season due to a back injury, and the next man up, Preston Wheeler, had played 4 years in a spread and pass happy system that would be much different than what the new staff was putting in offensively.
Then, a former Rice quarterback showed up that few had heard of. His name, Miklo Smalls.
For those who do not know, Smalls played for David Bailiff at Rice during Bailiff’s final year in Houston. After a year at Rice and Bailiff’s departure, Smalls took some time off and then enrolled at Independence Community College in Kansas.
Then, it was Commerce, America or bust.
Smalls nabbed the starting job in fall camp last season. He only threw 4 passes in the Lions blowout win against Seleccion Nuevo Leon, and he willed the Lions to 34-27 win over a Harlon Hill candidate led-Western Oregon team that was on the road.
Then, Eastern New Mexico came to The Hawk, and Smalls put on a clinic. Running, passing, executing the offense, and it became obvious to the Lion fans that this was the man to lead the Lion offense. Leading the Lion offense to average 33 points per game and 410 yards of total offense per game. After the win over an 8 win Eastern New Mexico team, it was apparent that Smalls was a diamond in the rough, and throughout the season, he just kept getting better. Teams that had never heard of this guy were blown away with his athleticism and play making ability. They were also impressed how he was able to command an offense and a huddle. After one season, Smalls has this job in the bag and led the Lions to the National Quarterfinals.
Next stop is hopefully 45 minutes away in McKinney for the National Championship game in 2020.
As far as this year goes, Smalls absolutely got the shaft in the awards column. Second team All LSC? Make no mistake about it, Miklo Smalls was the best quarterback in the conference and one of the best in the entire nation this past year. The coaches got sappy and gave the award to Tarleton’s Ben Holmes. Now, do not get me wrong, Holmes was a fantastic quarterback for the Texans, but Smalls was the better player this year.
The lack of awards shows how under the radar Smalls was this past year, but this coming year, Smalls could be Commerce’s dark horse to be the 4th Lion nominated for the Harlon Hill and the second winner.
Dark Horse? Yes, by definition, a dark horse is according to Webster’s; “a competitor or candidate about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins and/or succeeds.”
Does this not describe Miklo Smalls? Unknown a year ago, but the Lone Star Conference knows him. So does GNAC and RMAC conference. Next year, it will be nation wide.
So, what makes Smalls a candidate to be awarded with the best player in Division II next year?
Well first, he has the “it” factor. Think Johnny Manziel excitement, with Patrick Mahomes arm strength, Cam Newton body strength, and Colt Brennan decision making and passing ability. Now, he is not Johnny Football, but he is Miklo Smalls, and if you were a defensive coordinator in District 6-6A in 2014-2016, they would tell you he has that “it’ factor. Makes plus plays out of nothing. Makes you think he wants to go deep, and when everyone is covered, runs for 10 plus yards and a first down, throws the ball much less than the 4 previous Lion quarterbacks, but averages more yards per completion. Devastatingly strong arm strength, strong football acumen, very intelligent (he did get into Rice out of High School). Not to mention being able to morph from pocket passer into running quarterback in a matter of seconds, and if necessary, make plays on the run.
The Lion offense is full of great skill players, but if there is one guy that keeps the offense humming, it is Smalls. He commands the unit with confidence and makes plays within the flow of the offense. Oh, and he wins, and wins big time.
3,005 passing yards, 65 % completion percentage, 23 passing touchdowns to go with 488 rushing yards and 3 rushing touchdowns. The Lions put up 5,334 yards of offense, Smalls was responsible for nearly 3,500 yards of it, and it was a good offense.
Smalls has everything in his tool box to be the best player in the country. It really amazes me how under the radar he has flown, but get ready because this upcoming season, Smalls is now Commerce’s Harlon Hill dark horse.
And it would not be the first time that a dark horse has won the race with nobody expecting it.