CORNELIUS – David Smith doesn’t coach his two Hough High soccer teams with an iron fist. He’s often the first to crack a joke in a team huddle or needle a player.

Don’t let the laughter fool you. Smith has molded the Huskies girls’ and boys’ teams into a powerhouse program almost instantly from when the school opened – and he arrived – in August 2010.

“He’s pretty funny sometimes,” senior midfielder Courtney Carroll said. “He tries to make positives out of every situation. He has a lot of confidence in his players. He kind of lets us do what we need to do and he evaluates it. He gives us prep talks at halftime and after the game. He’s pretty encouraging.”

Smith’s girls’ squad – currently No. 2 in a national poll – is a focused, talented group. They’ve been to the state final the past two seasons, winning in 2012 and losing last year. The Huskies were 21-0-2 heading into the third-round playoff against Mooresville on May 21 (after Herald Weekly deadlines).

Smith likes to prepare his players for every situation with rigorous practices. Once a match begins – there aren’t any time-outs in soccer – he knows he can’t direct all 11 Huskies at once.

“I like to trust the players,” Smith said. “I like to put the players in positions to make plays because ultimately that’s what it comes down to in soccer. Make practices as competitive as possible, so when the game comes, it’s not a big shock.”

The only shock is when Hough doesn’t win. A slight bump was a 2-2 tie against Concord Robinson a couple weeks ago, which didn’t affect Hough’s conference championship. Smith, as usual, didn’t yell, break furniture or punish the players.

“He told us to think about it now, sit with it and we don’t want to ever feel like that again,” said Emmily Cowie, a junior. “I think he’s straightforward and honest about what we need to be working on to be playing well. Even if we’re playing well, there are things can do better and he pays attention to those details.”

Smith’s roster is loaded with talent, but that too presents challenges. Most of his players are on club teams and sometimes he moves them to positions they may balk at initially. Or, he must encourage junior varsity players to keep improving, when many realize they’d be varsity starters at other schools.

“Whether you play 10 minutes or 80 minutes, your contribution could be important,” Smith said.

Hough isn’t the first soccer program Smith established. He was the boys’ coach at Vance High its first 13 seasons. In his first Hough boys’ season, the Huskies were playing Vance. It was tied 1-1 with about 10 minutes left.

“Vance then scored four more goals,” Smith said. “Those were my players (at Vance). I felt it was a great kick in the rear end for the guys at Hough. I pointed at (Vance) and said `That’s exactly what I’m trying to get you guys to become. Finish games. Finish strong.”

That inaugural Hough team reached the state semifinals.

Smith, a West Charlotte High grad, was limited to baseball as a youngster because of bad hips. But he loved soccer, had a brother and buddies who were into it and jumped when a chance opened to coach at Ranson Middle School.

Now, he picks the brains of coaches statewide, and watches the game as a fan and as a coach. A preference between boys and girls?

“I enjoy both equally,” Smith said. “If you ask me in October, I’ll say I enjoy the boys more. If you ask me now, I enjoy the girls more. That’s not just me spewing a line.”

Smith helps keep the mood light when it can afford to be, which trickles to the players.

“The jokes definitely help when there’s tension among the girls or on the field here and there,” Cowie said. “He helps us realize that yes, it’s soccer, but you want to have fun. Win or lose, you’re supposed to have fun. That’s why we play in the first place.”

 

David Smith’s record at Hough

 

Girls’ soccer

Year

Record

Comment

2014

21-0-2*

Ranked No.   1 in nation

2013

21-3-0

Lost in   N.C. 4A final

2012

26-0-1

N.C. 4A   champion

2011

22-4-1

Lost in   N.C. 4A semifinal

Playoff record: 17-2*

 

Boys’ soccer

Year

Record

Comment

2013

22-6-0

Lost in   N.C. 4A semifinal

2012

13-7-2

Lost in   third round

2011

19-2-2

Lost in   first round

2010

12-13-1

Lost in   N.C. 4A semifinal

Playoff record: 10-4

* before May 21 third-round playoff