Caden Smith of St. Mary Catholic Central has committed to become a member of the track and field team at Grand Canyon University.
Everything seemed to be set up for Caden Smith.
The St. Mary Catholic Central sprinter headed into his senior season as the favorite to win the 100 and 200 meters at the Division 3 state track and field finals.
After all, he placed second in the 200 and third in the 100 last year.
The only runners who beat him were seniors.
But the 2020 track and field season never happened.
The Michigan High School Athletic Association was forced to cancel all spring sports because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I was looking forward it,” he said of his senior track season. “I wanted to prove to myself and coaches that I could do it. Not having the opportunity to do that hurt.”
Smith was denied a chance to prove himself against the best in the state this spring.
But for the next four years he will have a chance to prove himself against the best in the nation.
Smith has committed to run in college for Grand Canyon University. The private Christian school in Phoenix, Ariz., competes at the highest NCAA level – Division 1 – in nine men’s and 10 women’s sports.
“It was really the perfect fit,” Smith said. “It’s far away and a very competitive area for track.”
And, most importantly, he has a chance to qualify for the NCAA finals.
“I wanted to go and compete at the highest level,” he said. “I have a chance to run in the NCAA championships if I am good enough.”
Smith and Grand Canyon came together by chance.
“They have connections to my school somehow,” Smith said. “A rep came to (SMCC) and gave a general rundown of the school. I thought, ‘Why not?’ It looked like a cool school in Arizona. Then, the coach reached out to me.”
As he did more research, Smith discovered that Grand Canyon has a rich tradition in track and field.
“They won the last five (Western Athletic) Conference championships,” he said. “They have a really good team.”
When Grand Canyon flew Smith to Arizona for an official visit, the SMCC student fell in love with the school.
It’s been a meteoric rise for Smith as an athlete.
“I was never an athletic kid growing up,” he said. “I didn’t play sports. I never tried sports until the eighth grade.”
His first taste of track was not good.
“I tried out for the track team in the sixth grade and I hated it,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m never going to run track. This is terrible.’”
He gave the sport another try in the eighth grade and enjoyed immediate success at Trinity Lutheran, then was the Huron League champion in the 100 and 200 meters as a freshman at SMCC. He finished sixth in the 100 at the state finals.
He followed that up by placing third in the 100 and seventh in the 200 at state as a sophomore.
“Coming into high school, I was not confident in myself at all,” he said. “After my sophomore year, I started hearing from (college) coaches.”
Smith hit personal bests of :10.84 in the 100 and :21.87 in the 200 last season and wound up in the top three at state in both events.
Smith played junior varsity football for SMCC as a freshman and sophomore, but sat out his junior year to concentrate on track.
He decided to return to the gridiron as a senior and it turned out to be a great choice. Smith was a defensive back and running back for the Falcons’ state championship team.
“I got to be a champion in football,” he said. “I am extremely glad I did that.”
Smith expected the cancellation of spring sports.
“It wasn’t a surprise for me,” he said. “I try to stay updated on the news. As soon as school was called off, I knew it would happen. I was mentally prepared.
“It was super strange. During our last class period, our principal announced that we would be out the next three days. I realized then that we were not coming back. It was awkward.”
Coronavirus has curtailed Smith’s track training.
“As soon as we are allowed, I’ll get back on the track,” he said. “A lot of them are closed right now.”
The son of SMCC track and field coach Stan Smith and his wife Tammy plans to study electrical engineering in college.
And he plans to chase a spot in the NCAA finals.
“I look forward to seeing how my body reacts to training at Grand Canyon,” he said.