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Ironclad Dreams

Josh VanDyke • Apr 13, 2018 at 11:39 PM

Dakota Smith has been playing football since he was in third grade, so it's no surprise that the passion for the sport he's identified with since he was a kid still burns strong within him at age 24.

After a stellar high school career at Grand Haven, Smith continued to play football at Northern Michigan University. Upon graduation, Smith took a year off from football and the yearning to put the pads back on came calling in short order.

"I was in and out of it," Smith said of his future plans for football. "I sat out a year after college, and then I decided I wanted to keep going with it."

Smith found an opportunity with the West Michigan Ironmen in 2017 and it quickly rekindled his love of the game.

"I loved it," he said of his initial response to playing with the Ironmen. "It took me awhile to get the hang of it. There were new rules and new field dimensions to get used to, but it was a lot of fun, and I was enjoying every minute of it."

Although Smith views himself as a running back, he played slot receiver for the team last year. Now that he's made the move back to his favorite position, he appreciates what his initial season taught him.

"I played slot receiver my first year and that really helped me get a better understanding of what's expected of everyone on the offense, and it also helped me become a better route runner. Now, I feel like I'm a much better receiver out of the backfield."

Another helpful learning process was playing alongside former teammate Korey Ringer, who now plays for the Nebraska Danger.

"He taught me a lot about the indoor game that first year," Smith added. "This offseason, Coach (Brent) White watched film with me and all we did was watch film of Korey from last year. He was an All-Arena back for us, so there was no better example to follow than what he did. Just watching how he played gave me a better understanding of what I needed to do to be successful in this league."

LONG ROAD IN L.C.

While watching film and preparing to become a key cog in the offense for the Ironmen, Smith and his teammates had to take a day-by-day approach to whether or not his team would even be in operation.

The Ironmen initially joined the American Indoor Football League in 2016, but the league quickly folded operations following that season. In hopes of finding a new league, the organization then joined the Champions Indoor Football League for the 2017 season but had its eyes on bigger stages.

For the 2018 season, the Ironmen were hoping to make the jump to the Indoor Football League, but a court ruling blocked their plans. According to court documents, the CIF filed a lawsuit to keep the Ironmen and the Bloomington Edge (CIF team) in their league and not allow them to join the IFL.

Through several statements, accusations were made that the Ironmen and the Edge were offered monetary bribes from an owner of an IFL team to break their agreement with the CIF and jump leagues. Ultimately, the court ruled in favor of the CIF and forced the Ironmen into a dire situation.

The organization decided to play independently following the ruling. A few weeks later, owner Terrance Williams sold the Ironmen to a group of undisclosed business leaders in Muskegon and the new ownership group decided to play in the regional Midwest Professional Indoor Football League this season before joining the IFL in 2019.

"Everything was up in the air," reflected Smith. "We were all still working out and preparing for the season, but we really didn't know where we would be playing, what league we would be in or if we even had a team to play on.

"It's a credit to this team that we were able to work through all that and have as much success as we have had so far."

IRON SHARPENS IRON

The Ironmen breezed through their regular season schedule with a 3-0 record with an offense that is averaging 67 points per game and only allowing 27. Despite being a pass-heavy style of play, Smith has found his role as a thunderous runner, plowing through defenses for seven touchdowns in just three games.

Smith and the top-seeded Ironmen will take on the No. 4 Westchester Apaches in the opening round of the MPIF playoffs tonight at 7:15 p.m. at L.C. Walker Arena.

With a championship within sight, Smith hopes the Ironmen can deliver for a fanbase that has helped push them to new heights.

"It would be great to win a championship," Smith said. "The adversity we went through between not having a team and then having a team and all that drama would make it all worth it if we finished as league champions.

"We really want to win it for our fans though. Playing at L.C. Walker is amazing. Our fanbase makes that atmosphere special. Our home games are always rocking and we love playing there. Most teams don't get a big advantage with the home crowd, but we feel like we have an edge whenever we play in front of our fans."

BUCS PRIDE

Smith credits his high school head coach, Mike Farley, as a big reason why he's still playing football to this day.

"Before I started playing varsity football as a sophomore, I didn't really love the game like I do now," he admitted. "I kind of got thrown into it, and I learned so much about the game under Coach Farley that I knew I wanted to play it as long as I could.

"I had been playing mostly I-formation football until I got up to varsity, and then Coach Farley brought the new-look spread to Grand Haven and really made me a versatile player. If I hadn't broadened my skill set, I don't think I would be where I am today."

With the Buccaneers, Smith helped fuel the program to one of its most successful three-year runs in history with a combined win-loss record of 25-6 from 2009-11.

Along the way, Smith was named Honorable Mention O-K Red All-Conference Running Back, 2010 and 2011, and was named a first-team All-State Running Back in 2011 by the Detroit Free Press.

As a senior in 2011, Smith set program records for single-season rushing yards (1,371) and single-season touchdowns (22).

"I enjoy running the ball," Smith said. "I watched a lot of guys like Ricky Williams and Warrick Dunn growing up and I've always admired the way Bo Jackson played. I'm more of a downhill runner, so I'm not afraid of contact and I just want to make a play for my team when I get the ball in my hands."

Smith was also a four-year varsity wrestler for Grand Haven and was on the varsity track team his freshman and sophomore years.

FOOTBALL FUTURE

Smith isn't taking his football career lightly and plans to continue to put on his pads as long as it remains a fun endeavor.

"I really enjoy it, so I figure I will continue to play and just reevaluate where I'm at after each season," he said. "As long as I'm having fun and my body is in relatively good shape, I'm going to keep pushing myself.

"I would love to try out for a CFL (Candian Football League) team at some point and at least give myself a shot at something like that. I feel like I owe it to all my current and former coaches, my family and the community I'm from to keep that dream alive."

MPIF PLAYOFF OPENER

No. 1 West Michigan Ironmen vs. No. 4 Westchester Apaches

WHEN: Tonight, 7:15 p.m.

WHERE: L.C. Walker Arena, 470 W Western Ave.

TICKETS: www.wmarenafb.com/tickets

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