From second-tier to standouts in the district, Wossman High School transfers Zach Smith and Antonio Berry have taken different paths to becoming the new faces of the Wossman football team.
Last season, Rayville transfer Smith was groomed into becoming a successor for Wossman standout and current LSU Tiger Cameron Lewis.
Meanwhile, Richwood transfer Berry had to watch from the sidelines because he didn’t transfer in time to gain eligibility for the regular season. Becoming a spectator instead of a playmaker wasn’t easy for Berry, but he made the most of it.
“It was really challenging,” Berry said. “Instead of looking at it as a loss, I had to look at it as a gain. I treated my time off to get better. I lifted weights, ran a lot and I got my mental reps in.”
This season, those transfers have become full-fledged leaders on a Wossman team that’s undefeated in district and has an overall 6-2 record. Smith has thrown for more than 1,000 passing yards, despite not starting the West Monroe game, while Berry leads the team with five blocked punts, six forced fumbles and has two interceptions on the Wildcat defense.
A predictable performance for both? Not exactly, if you’re asking Wossman head coach Dean Smith.
Wanting to work Zach at wide receiver to start the season, despite giving him experience last season as a backup quarterback to Lewis, Dean hoped transfer Kaleb Johnson could learn the offense quickly and move the football at the position for his offense. Zach, who just committed to Jackson State University, embraced his receiver role but deep down wanted to be the quarterback.
“I had to wait on my turn,” Zach said.
With the team being shutout against Bastrop in the jamboree and getting beaten by West Monroe 34-6, a game in which the only points scored were by the defense, Dean could sense Zach wanting a chance to run the offense.
“I know selfishly, and he didn’t tell me, but the best player wants the ball in their hands every time,” Dean said. “A kid will sit back, and you’ll be like, ‘Oh OK, he’s not me’ when they watch another player run the position. He waited and did it patiently.”
An inability to move the football against West Monroe in the season-opener forced Dean’s hand, putting Zach back at quarterback. Since the move, Wossman’s offense has been more efficient, with Johnson proving to be a better fit at receiver.
While Zach has orchestrated the offense, Berry has impacted the game on special teams and defense with his athletic play. The plays he’s made have been made before in practice, but Dean had his doubts whether his breakout performances in practice would translate to Friday nights.
“It started developing for Antonio last year,” Dean said. “Every day in practice, because he was ineligible, he was trying to be the (opposing team’s) best player. He would be the quarterback, tailback or receiver. He gave us trouble.”
But was it because he was familiar with Wossman’s offense or was it because he was that instinctive of a player?
“The thing was whether he could convert it over to Friday nights,” Dean said. “Is he that smart or is it habit? He picked the ball off against Bastrop in the jamboree. He did it one-handed, and it was like, ‘We got something here, folks.’”
Fitting in wasn’t hard either. Being the aggressive player Berry is, he fit meshed well with the philosophy and makeup of a full-throttle Wossman defense.
“I always have the mindset that big-time players make big-time plays in big-time situations,” Berry said. “Coach put me on the defensive side of the ball, and I used my natural abilities. Plays just came to me and I made them.”
As Wossman readies to play Carroll and Richwood in district-deciding contests, transfers have now transitioned to veterans. And their contributions to the team are not only welcomed, they’re expected.