Todd Smolinsky has been patiently biding his time.
For the past two years, the North Penn senior was the backup to quarterback Justin Davey. It’s the only time in his career that he’s found himself in a backup role, but he never complained, opting instead to use the opportunity to watch and learn.
“Todd has always been a starter at quarterback as he was growing up in midget football,” coach Dick Beck said. “He came to North Penn – sometimes it’s the luck of the draw. You have a kid that’s a year ahead of you who’s the starter, and Todd ended up being the backup as a sophomore and junior.
“Never once did he ever hang his head and ask me why he wasn’t the starter. All he did was listened, paid attention in the background and worked his butt off.”
Smolinsky, it seems, was able to see the bigger picture.
“Justin was a great player, and I knew I wasn’t going to go over him because he had a year on me and was more experienced,” he said. “I figured it would benefit me to concentrate and always be ready.
“That way when this year came I was ready to play, and I felt like I had been playing those other years because I was so focused on what was going on. I knew my chance was going to come eventually.”
That time has come, and if early results are worth anything, Smolinsky apparently learned his lessons well. In the Knights’ first scrimmage, the senior quarterback had a pair of 70-yard touchdown passes, and for good measure, he also had a 70-yard touchdown run.
“I was really excited to go out there and show everybody what I can do,” he said. “It’s always been something I looked forward to doing.
“I’ve always been behind Justin, and it’s weird now that it’s my team, to be the one that’s going to be out there and showing everybody what to do. A lot of guys on the team are my real good friends, so I know they’ll always have my back.”
Smolinsky admits he might not have a big-time arm or, at 5-11, the kind of size opponents find intimidating, but he possesses a trait that might be equally important – toughness.
“(I try to be) mentally and physically tough,” he said. “I’m not the fastest, but I like to play physical. I always joke with people about running them over in the field instead of them hitting me.
“And mentally tough – I know I’m always going to make mistakes, but I just try to do better the next play and always move on.”
Beck acknowledged that having Smolinsky as a backup the last two years was a luxury of sorts.
“He made me comfortable to run the quarterback,” the Knights’ coach said. “If you have a quarterback you like to run the ball with and if you do not have a quality backup, you become tentative because if he gets hurt, now you’re in trouble.
“I can run Justin and be aggressive knowing if he gets injured we won’t lose a step with Todd coming in.”
As the season went on last year, Smolinsky began earning playing time on the defensive side of the football at outside linebacker and strong safety. He commanded so much respect from his teammates that he was voted captain prior to last year’s banquet even though he was not a starter.
“I always tell them they have to lead by example first,” Beck said. “He’s very hard on himself - he knows if he made a bad play, and he’s not an excuse maker. He’s a real competitor.
“He’s and on and off the field guy. He’s one of those kids that defines our program. He’s what you want representing the blue and blue.”
Smolinsky also brings plenty of smarts to the athletic field. With an SAT score of 2100 and an ACT score that translates into a 2270 SAT score, the Knights’ quarterback knows there’s life after football, and he has his sights set on a pre-med major.
“I always look at academics the way I look at athletics,” he said. “I try to be very enthusiastic about academics even though it’s not the most exciting thing.
“I really enjoy going to school and learning things. Football has always been fun to me, but I realize what I really want to do in life is be a doctor or something in the medical field.”
Attending an Ivy League school or a large university appeals to Smolinsky, but he has not ruled out the possibility of playing football at the collegiate level.
“If I could, I absolutely would,” he said.
For now, Smolinsky is focused on learning all there is to know about the quarterback position. One of the lessons he learned from watching Davey was how to take the coaching.
“Playing quarterback you’re always going to make mistakes, there’s always something you can do better,” he said. “Justin always tried to get better, and he was always improving. I try and go by the same model and get better.
“I know I’m not going to do everything right, but I always want to be open to coaching because I know that will make me better.”
Smolinsky brings plenty of experience to the gridiron.
He began playing flag football at the age of four, following in the footsteps of older siblings Mark and Amber. He also played baseball and basketball, but both of those sports fell by the wayside – baseball after seventh grade and basketball after 10th grade.
“Football was always my favorite sport,” he said. “It’s exciting and physical at the same time.
“I never really got into baseball because I like a little more fast-paced game, and basketball wasn’t physical enough for me. I just always loved football.”
This fall, Beck will look to Smolinsky to lead a Knight squad that lost the nucleus of last year’s league and district championship squad to graduation
“He’s been through it all,” the Knights’ coach said. “He knows what to expect.
“It’s nice to have that calming voice in the huddle to be able to confidently call the play, and if they have questions, he’ll know the answers. The thing about coaches is we can’t be in the huddle.”
But Smolinsky will be, and he’s been preparing to assume a leadership role since the day the season ended last year with a loss to Liberty in the state semifinals.
“On the bus ride home, my friends and I were talking and we realized – now we’re the seniors,” he said. “We knew from the very beginning we wanted to take charge and always try and get better and try and make everyone on the team better.
“We have a strong group of guys that are all real close, and we’re all leaders. We lost a lot of guys (from last year). We’re trying to start new. I’m not putting too much pressure on myself to live up to last year’s team because that was a whole different team. We have to do the best we can right now, and we’re going to go out there and do everything we can.”
Smolinsky admits he’s counting the days until the Knights’ season opener.
“I’m very excited,” he said. “Every night I think about it. I tell everybody I’m really excited to go back to school because then our games will be starting, and we’ll actually be playing football.
“I like being under the lights on Friday nights. I can’t wait. It’s not coming soon enough.”
The Knights open their season on Sept. 4 when they will take on defending state champion Liberty.