Hayden’s Murphy Smartt headed to Fort Hays on track scholarship | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden’s Murphy Smartt headed to Fort Hays on track scholarship

Luke Graham

It's not printable what went through Murphy Smartt's head in early March when he came down awkwardly after trying to dunk the ball in a game that got the Hayden basketball team to the state tournament.

Smartt knew right away that he had torn the ACL in his left knee. But maybe more worrisome for Smartt was that his athletic future might be in doubt.

The 2010 Hayden graduate had started to garner a lot of interest from schools for his ability in track and field.

As a junior, Smartt cleared 6 feet, 6 inches in the high jump. Colorado State University had started to show interest, as had multiple schools across the region.

"Yeah, I thought (my scholarships) were gone," Smartt said. "I mean instantly."

But while most of the schools cooled on Smartt or pulled offers, Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan., didn't.

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The school known for its track program stayed interested in Smartt, and after a visit to the campus, Smartt was sold.

"The coach down there, Ty Haas, he's just real cool," Smartt said. "I like him a lot. He kept me updated on everything. Every week he'd call. He actually treated me like a person. Other places, I was just a number. That meant a lot."

A rough year

Smartt started high jumping his freshman year. He was above average at it until regionals his junior year.

That's when he cleared 6-6 and started to pop up on college radars.

Before he got injured in basketball, Smartt was the favorite to win the Class 2A high jump championship. Between his junior and senior years, Smartt went from 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-5. His goal was to try to clear 6-10 his senior year.

"He had everything going for him, and he would have been a state champion," Hayden track coach Barbara Manzanares said. "He's got incredible athletic ability. It's just his jumping ability."

But the injury squashed any chances of Smartt's competing. He didn't want to think about it, so he worked a lot on his family's ranch. He tried to keep it out of his thoughts, but even the easy-going Smartt had a tough time with it.

"I missed it," he said. "I would have won state. No doubt in my mind."

But with Fort Hays still interested, Smartt was rejuvenated.

Haas, who has been the jumping coach at Fort Hays for two years, said despite the knee injury, the Tigers wanted Smartt because of his incredible athletic ability.

"We've had athletes come through here that have had ACL problems," Haas said. "And his raw ability is there."

'A high ceiling'

Although Smartt has been told it will probably be 15 to 17 months until he's fully recovered, it's not hard to see why Fort Hays remained interested.

When he clea­­red the 6-6 mark, he had done it on a bad knee. Add in that he's still relatively new at the sport, hasn't focused solely on it and has the ability to jump off both knees, and Haas was sold.

"His ceiling is really high," Haas said. "Coming in, a lot of high-schoolers don't know about high jump. They just go up there. They don't have much of an approach. Once they understand that, they take off."

Haas wasn't sure whether Smartt would jump as a freshman because of the knee. The real positive, though, is that Smartt can jump equally well off each leg. If the left one doesn't heal, Haas said he would have no reservations in getting Smartt to jump off the right one.

Smartt will leave in August and plans to double major in agriculture business and science.

He said he wants to clear 6-10 next season and has hopes of breaking the Fort Hays school record, which is 7-1 1/4.

"Murphy is coming in at 6-6, so 7-0 is definitely in the ball park," Haas said. "We set our goals pretty high here. But he fits the mold. He's tall, lean and mean."