At one point or another during a high school career, many athletes find that they reach a bump in the road. For Sam Smallzman ’15, linebacker, fullback, and senior co-captain of the football team, this bump came during the fall of 2013, when he underwent surgery to fix a torn ACL. As a result, Smallzman spent a large portion of his junior season on the sidelines, putting in extra work during the off-season in order to be ready for his final campaign.
Smallzman was starting quarterback prior to his injury. Since recovering, Smallzman has achieved a career high single-season rushing total with 261 yards in the 2014 season. On defense, he has made 35 solo tackles and assisted 67 tackles over the course of the season according to the Star Ledger.
The fact that Smallzman was off the field for so long has made this season all the more special for him. “My most memorable game so far this year was the first game of the season [against Hamilton West High School]. We were [the] underdog in that game, [and] it was my first game back from surgery last year,” Smallzman said. “I worked really hard to come back [after being injured], and to win like we did after losing all last year and not being able to play … was big for me.”
During the season opener, the Little Tigers beat Hamilton West 28–7 with a touchdown from Smallzman in the last couple of minutes of the game. “[Sam] led us into battles … as our defensive unit, but was able to contribute on offense as well with a big touchdown,” said Head Coach Charles Gallagher. “The contribution [was] huge.” In addition to his accomplishments with the team, Smallzman was honored on October 7 along with four other local players by the 12th Man Touchdown Club, a local organization that honors offensive, defensive, and special teams players each week.
One of Smallzman’s favorite parts of being captain is setting an example for the underclassmen. He has been a member of the varsity squad since his sophomore year and has served as captain for the past two seasons. “[Being captain] is not so much ordering people around—[it’s] just working hard, doing what you’re supposed to do, and making sure that other players and underclassmen see that you’re doing that, so they want to do the same,” Smallzman said.
Smallzman also attributes the team’s recent wins over schools like Robbinsville High School and Steinert High School to increased unity between the players compared to past years’ teams. “It’s a fun group. What I like about this year’s team is that … everyone’s really tight,” he said. “I’m not really too crazy about having a really good individual performance. I’m more focused [on] our team [playing] really well—that’s what matters.”
The co-captain’s experience as a football player goes beyond his career at PHS. Smallzman began playing in fourth grade and immediately felt a connection to the sport. “I [thought], ‘Oh, this is kind of fun. I get to run with a ball and tackle people,’” Smallzman said.
“[Smallzman] has been a committed football player, and he’s a quality student. He wants to do well in school and he wants to do well by his teammates,” Gallagher said. Now in his ninth year as a football player, Smallzman hopes to continue playing football in college.