One last time around for Smalley

Battle Ground athlete/go-kart racer will play his final football game

By Paul Valencia, Columbian High School Sports Reporter

Published:

 

Freedom Bowl Classic

• Freedom Bowl Classic high school all-star football game, 7:30 p.m. Satuday at McKenzie Stadium.

• CCYF games at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

• Tickets are $10. Net proceeds benefit Shriners Hospital

• Radio coverage on AM 1080

Freedom Bowl Classic

• Freedom Bowl Classic high school all-star football game, 7:30 p.m. Satuday at McKenzie Stadium.

• CCYF games at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

• Tickets are $10. Net proceeds benefit Shriners Hospital

• Radio coverage on AM 1080

Justin Smalley is 5 feet, 10 inches tall, 190 pounds, and he must be the fastest player on his football team.

Well, maybe not the fastest on the football field.

But put him in a go-kart, and he is confident he is the fastest among his teammates.

Smalley loves football just a little bit more than he loves racing.

“I never want to stop doing either,” said Smalley, a recent graduate of Battle Ground High School.

Unfortunately for Smalley, he is going to give up one of his endeavors.

“In racing, I can keep going as long as I want,” he said, noting he knows guys in their 60s who are still putting in the laps.

“Football eventually stops, sadly.”

That day is here. Smalley is celebrating a football career with one final game, a Clark County all-star playing in the Freedom Bowl Classic at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

A running back for Battle Ground, Smalley has moved to wide receiver for this game, which will be played at McKenzie Stadium. He is on the “National” team going up against the “American” squad. The teams are made up of recent high school graduates from Southwest Washington.

“Football has meant the world to me. Whenever I think back on things, football season is the thing I most enjoy,” Smalley said. “Hanging out with the team and all the great moments. We had some tough losses, but in the end, we all had each other’s backs.”

In racing, Smalley relies on his family for that support. His dad backs him and his younger brother, Adam, as the two compete in the International Kart Federation, traveling the Northwest on race weekends.

Adam led the way for Justin, who was focusing more on wrestling when Adam started racing.

“I saw how much fun my brother had that first year, and I said I gotta get into racing now,” Justin said.

Ever since then — around 2011 — Justin Smalley has been on an adrenaline rush.

“Go-karting is a struggle sometimes,” he acknowledged. “The competition out there just kills me.”

Sitting about 2 inches off the ground, racers can get up to 65-70 mph on the straightaways. Smalley said it takes precision to go into a corner at 70 and bring it down to about 30 for the turn, then jump right back up to speed.

“You’re trying to drive as hard as you can and still keep it under control,” Smalley said. “If you don’t, you’re in the bushes or you’re spun out. There is no room for error.”

Or worse.

Smalley has flipped a kart once.

“That was pretty scary,” he said. “I was fine. Just a little bruising.”

Smalley said karting actually helped him become a better football player.

“Racing made my decision-making skills a lot quicker,” he said. “As a running back … I was able to anticipate where I needed to be.”

Last fall, he led the Tigers with 721 yards rushing on 123 carries — an average of 5.9 yards per carry — and scored 12 touchdowns. Battle Ground came within one win of making the playoffs.

Just four years ago, the Tigers won one game. Now, it’s a program on the rise, competitive.

Smalley said he is proud to be part of that building process. He credited the Class of 2013 for getting it started. Then the Class of 2014 continued the hard work.

He plans to attend Washington State to study business. Fortunately for him, there is a go-kart track near the campus.

His football career, though, is over after this one final game.

So look for Smalley in the Freedom Bowl Classic. He won’t be a blur like he is in his other sport, but he is fast enough.

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