BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
MUSKEGON TWP. – Liam Smith had to think about it for a minute, then spilled forth the details of his very first high school varsity soccer goal.
“I think it was against (Grand Rapids) Union,” said Smith. “I got the ball somewhere near the top of the box, turned, took a couple of touches and put it inside the left goal post.”
Smith only had six goals during that 2020 shortened season and that was with him starting at a holding center midfield position on a team of 10 seniors. He was one of two freshman starters that year but started every game for a team that reached the Division 2 district finals.
But that very first tally was only the beginning of something special and not the end of Smith’s offensive prowess.
Smith has scored or assisted on lots of goals since then.
Tons of them.
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Now the talented senior attacking midfielder/forward for Muskegon Reeths-Puffer has been busy rewriting the school record books during his stellar four-year prep career all while preparing for a future collegiate career.
Smith enters the Division 1 postseason with school records for goals in a game, season and career along with assists in a career. He also has seven career hattricks and numerous other school records. In categories where he isn’t listed on top, he’s inside the top five and climbing.
So far this season Smith has compiled a single-season school record 37 goals with 15 assists. He collected 28 goals and nine assists as a junior where he earned Division 2 All-State First Team accolades. As a sophomore Smith scored 27 times with six assists, earning All-State Second Team accolades, while he recorded those six goals and eight assists as a freshmen when he earned All-State Honorable Mention honors.
Overall, Smith has scored 98 goals, collected 38 assists, another school record, recorded seven hattricks, 234 career points, once had five goals in a game and recorded countless game-winning goals and assists.
“It’s been a great time playing for my school and my community,” said Smith. “I wouldn’t have changed my mind about playing high school. I remember being at an ID camp in Indiana and a couple of (D-I) schools really wanted me to leave my high school for an Academy team.”
Smith didn’t alter his plans. He recently made an oral commitment to play at NCAA Division I Western Michigan University, which reached the national Sweet 16 last November in the College Cup Tournament. Smith had talked to legions of colleges from NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III and NAIA schools and was also courted by several NCAA D-I programs as well, including Michigan State, Oakland, Detroit Mercy, Purdue-Fort Wayne, St. Louis, Butler and Xavier.
He chose Western Michigan University for several reasons.
“A lot of schools really liked me, but some of them wanted me to play (MLS Next) Academy this year and I didn’t want to give up high school soccer,” noted Smith, who has spent some time the last couple of years at some Soccer ID Camps around the Midwest. “I love club and it served its purpose. But Western Michigan doesn’t mind if you play high school. A lot of their players did. Their coaches just want good players that (fit their system).
“Plus, it’s close to home. It’s only a couple of hours away and my family can still watch me play,” added Smith about playing for WMU. “I really liked the guys there and know that they are a really good program. The coaching staff is great. I really liked what Chad Wiseman (and staff) had to offer me.”
Since Smith committed back on July 18 he is one of three in-state commits for the Bronchos, joining Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central’s Alex Moeller and Utica Eisenhower’s Jordan Klein. Smith actually had plans to take some official visits to several D-I schools, but opted to cancel those visits after touring WMU.”
Reeths-Puffer head coach Kody Harrell watched Smith in some youth camps when he was the R-P junior varsity coach from 2016-2019 and when Smith was a youngster in late elementary school and middle school.“I’m not sure if I will play yet. I’ll wait and see if anyone recruits me or if (a particular school) school is the right fit for me,” noted Craft. “I’ll just go out there and play hard and do what I can do and maybe (the recruiting) will happen.”
“I knew Liam was good back then. I watched him at some camps and when he was a freshman I knew he would be up on varsity and start there,” beamed Harrell. “He’s a great player and a great kid. His work ethic is incredible. He’s all in 100 percent in every drill in practice and never takes a minute off. He sets the standard. I always say to the other kids that this is a great example of a work ethic and how everybody should work this hard.
“I remember earlier this year we lost a game to (Grand Rapids) Forest Hills Northern and when we were done he went to the gym because he was mad that we didn’t play well,” recalled Harrell. “He is very health-oriented. He has a private trainer and a nutrition coach. He loves soccer. I know some kids are multi-sport athletes but Liam loves soccer so much that’s all he plays now. He works as hard at the game as anyone I’ve coached.”
At a rock-built 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds with great speed, Smith is your prototypical Division I athlete. He has played at a high level with his Michigan Rangers (formerly Michigan Fire Juniors) club team and has led his prep program from six wins in 2020 to 16 wins this season as a senior. Smith has helped the Rockets to a 44-27-11 record over his career entering this week’s district semifinals and a 16-4-1 record this season.
“I really think that Liam will play professionally one day. Based on everything I’ve seen of the kid he’s a natural and he works so hard,” continued Harrell. “I can really see him put bread on the table with a soccer paycheck one day. I think he has what it takes (to succeed).”
Smith, who also played on the Olympic Developmental Program Midwest Region II team the last few years, is part of a high school team that features 11 seniors, 16 varsity returnees, and has outscored the opposition 69-30 with nine shutouts entering Tuesday’s Division 1 district semifinals against Hudsonville. Smith and the Rockets advanced in last week’s pre-districts with a narrow 2-1 decision over Jenison.
He is the first All-State Dream Team and Mr. Soccer candidate in school history and has racked in dozens of awards and postseason accolades in his career.
“It’s an honor just to be listed there,” admitted Smith. “I don’t think we’ve ever had anybody up there as a candidate for Dream Team or Mr. Soccer and that is quite an honor. There’s a lot of great players in the state.”
With a high soccer IQ, a relentless work ethic, ability to finish against good teams, the ability to make his teammates better and always carrying the reputation of a player that needs to be man-marked or double-teamed in a game, Smithhas earned everything that is given to him. He is sad that the high school chapter of his career will be coming to an end soon as the state tournament will complete over the next couple of weeks and those top prospects in the Class of 2024 will have to look forward to their collegiate careers.
“I’m sad that it is coming to an end,” said Smith, who has always wanted to play Division IM college soccer and play professionally one day. “You work so hard each offseason to get ready and then a high school season is over in just two months. It’s the same routine, getting ready for high school, playing the high school season, then train hard all winter, play club again in the spring and summer ball and camps in the summer. Then you do it all over again. I wouldn’t have traded it away for anything. I love playing for Reeths-Puffer. But I am looking forward to playing in college, too, and the challenges it will bring.
“I’ve had a lot of great people support me along the way,” continued Smith. “My coaches, teammates, parents, classmates and everybody has really supported me.”
Laim Smith has helped Muskegon Reeths-Puffer land on the state map during his career and the Rockets were ranked for a stint in the Division 1 Top 15 for the first time after competing in Division 2 the last several couple of decades.
But soccer is far from over for Liam Smith.