Smithwick-Hann Continues Valley’s Storied Quarterback Tradition

By Beacon Staff

Shay Smithwick-Hann, Glacier High School’s junior quarterback, understands his role in history. It’s two-fold: guiding the school’s fledgling football program to statewide relevance and carrying on the Flathead Valley’s long tradition of gifted quarterbacks. Like the other Class AA quarterback greats from Kalispell over the past two decades, he has a key ally on the sidelines: Glacier head coach and Montana quarterback legend Grady Bennett.

Bennett, a former Braves standout and All-American at the University of Montana, is in his second year at Glacier after 16 years as an assistant and head coach across town at Flathead High. In that time, Bennett has worked closely with more than a half dozen all-state and all-conference quarterbacks, including Mike Reilly, the current Central Washington University star who is listed as a top NFL prospect by multiple scouting agencies, and Brock Osweiler, the Braves’ prodigy. Osweiler, a senior, is one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation and has committed to Arizona State University.

Starting quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hann bullets a ball to a teammate during practice at Glacier High School.

Now Bennett turns his attention to Smithwick-Hann, studying film with him during every lunch period and working daily on the budding star’s throwing mechanics. Following in the footsteps of Reilly and Osweiler, Smithwick-Hann also wants to play college ball.

“I’m hoping to keep that tradition going,” Smithwick-Hann said. “I’d love to play college quarterback. That’s my dream. I’ve always wanted to.”

In the first game of this season against Butte, Smithwick-Hann completed 13 of 20 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown in leading the Wolfpack to the first victory in school history following an 0-10 inaugural season. He also ran for a touchdown. The following weekend, the young quarterback struggled in a 28-7 loss to Bozeman. He finished 13 for 32 for 139 yards and a touchdown.

Like a seasoned veteran leader, he took responsibility for the loss. Then he bounced back in a big way. The following weekend in a 27-20 victory over Missoula Hellgate, Smithwick-Hann torched the Knights for a career-high 265 yards passing and four touchdowns, including a game-winning 71-yard toss to George Werk with 1:38 remaining.

Not only does Smithwick-Hann have Bennett’s tutelage on his side, he also got a head start on stardom by backing up Osweiler as a freshman at Flathead. He said Osweiler, a sophomore at the time, taught him vital intangibles of the quarterback position through direct teaching and by example. In a game against eventual state champion Helena Capital, Osweiler got injured and Smithwick-Hann, a gangly freshman, took the helm. Bennett said he nearly led the Braves to victory and, in the process, gained invaluable experience.

Smithwick-Hann speaks highly of Osweiler, who is now his cross-town rival. In last year’s first-ever game between Glacier and Flathead, Smithwick-Hann threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns on 28 of 38 passing in a 49-13 loss.

“Brock is awesome – he’s an amazing quarterback,” Smithwick-Hann said. “It was good to see how he led a team. He taught me how to get kids to follow you. I’ve tried to bring that over to Glacier.”

Phil Heimerl, left, watches to see if Shay Smithwick-Hann’s pass hits its mark during football practice at Glacier High School.

Every weekday during school lunch period, Bennett and Smithwick-Hann get together for 40 minutes of film. Bennett said, “If you don’t like to (watch film) as a quarterback, you’re not going to do very well.” Then for the first part of practice Bennett works with the junior quarterback on his technique.

“He’s a very smart kid,” Bennett said, adding: “I spend more time with him than my wife during the season.”

Smithwick-Hann is a big kid: 6 feet 4 and 205 pounds. Still, he’s small compared to the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Osweiler. Bennett said Osweiler always had an innate ability to use his size to punish defenders. Smithwick-Hann, Bennett said, is starting to incorporate a similar hard-nosed edge to his game.

“Brock is tough,” Bennett said. “He’ll run you over and he’ll take a shot. I think he could go to college and play tight end or D-end.”

In the middle of an intense game, it’s easy for a high school quarterback to lose track of the fundamentals he has been honing in practice. That’s where a coach with first-hand knowledge of the quarterback position comes in handy. Smithwick-Hann said Bennett will tell him what the defense is focusing on or what’s wrong with his throwing motion while the game is in progress.

“Coach Bennett is an offensive genius,” Smithwick-Hann said. “He makes up plays during the game, and they work.”

After his record-breaking career with the Grizzlies, Bennett had a brief stint in the Canadian Football League before returning to Flathead High to coach in 1991. Since then he has built up an impressive list of standout quarterback protégés, including Osweiler, Reilly, Seth Arnoux, Billy Henderson, Pete Shull, Matt Regier, Kern Luhman and Clay Lindsay, all of whom earned all-state or all-conference honors.

Bennett’s theory is to prepare his quarterbacks as much as possible in practice and the film room, and then when it’s game time, let them go – that is, once they’re ready. Smithwick-Hann is almost ready, Bennett said, and by next year he’ll be calling a majority of the plays. Bennett’s strategy places a lot of pressure on the young quarterbacks’ shoulders at first, but in the end it makes them vastly more prepared for college ball.

“I put them in a position to have the whole game at their fingertips, to be a quarterback,” Bennett said.

Smithwick-Hann said his team is bigger and better overall this year, which has opened up the field for him on offense. The offensive line is better able to hold its own and pick up blitzes, giving him more time in the pocket. Also, though, Smithwick-Hann is more mature and able to stay comfortable in the pocket for longer.

“If I can stay accurate, we’ll put some points on the board this year,” he said. “We’re excited.”

Glacier High School quarterback Shay Smithwick-Hann is silhouetted by the afternoon sun as he throws the ball during an after-school practice.