Family tradition reaches new heights

by Jim Boyle

Zimmerman High School’s first conference title in football and its subsequent run in the playoffs has been especially sweet for the family of Brandon Smith.

The Thunder captain comes from a long line of football players — all of them captains. The list includes Smith’s great-grandfather, Morris Smith, who helped pilot Osseo High School’s first football season back in the late 1920s.

From left to right: Jon Smith, Elk River High School class of 1982; Brandon Smith, Zimmerman High School class of 2012; Jerry Smith, Osseo High School class of 1954; and the late Morris Smith, who was captain of Osseo High School’s first football team.

He played fullback and tackle as the captain for the Orioles, wearing only a leather helmet. He later played for a town team in the mid-1930s, giving Brandon’s grandfather, Jerry Smith, a chance to watch his father move up and down he field.
“It was a foregone conclusion that I would play,” Jerry Smith said. “And liked it.”

He played quarterback and linebacker. He followed in his brother Ken’s footsteps by becoming captain of the team in the fall of 1953. The Orioles didn’t win any championships, but that didn’t prevent the guys on the team from having a great experience.
“I think it was the feeling of belonging,” Jerry recalled. “You were doing something for your school as well as yourself.”

After high school, Jerry joined the United States Air Force. He was a gunner on a B-66 airplane in between the Korean War and the Vietnam War. When he came home from four years of duty, he attended St. Cloud University and got a teaching degree. He went on to teach school in Anoka.

He got into real estate later in life, and owned his own Century 21 Real Estate business for 21 years.  He eventually helped coach a youth football team sponsored by AME Ready Mix.

Quarterbacks for the team hollered out “Down-Ready-Mix-Mix-Mix.” Jerry’s son Jon was one of the players he coached.

“There was never any doubt whether I would play,” Jon said. “I loved it from Day 1.”

Jon’s best season was as an eighth-grader when the ninth-grade Elk River team finished the season unbeaten. He was captain of the Elk River Elks in the fall of 1981, five years after his brother, Tim Smith, captained the Elks.

Jon played offensive guard and middle linebacker. When asked why he was named captain, he down played any leadership abilities the coaching staff had spotted.

“I don’t know,” Jon quipped. “I was a jokester and I was athletic.”

Jon says he loved the camaraderie he experienced playing high school football. “I’m still friends with most of the guys I played with,” he said.

After high school he went to Southwest State University and got a degree in electrical engineering. He didn’t play college football, but he did compete in track at the collegiate level.

He used his degree to get a job and travel the world. Eventually, he also got into real estate and appraising while he and his wife were raising their three boys. As an adult, Jon applied his love of the game to coaching youth football.
His sons started with flag football and progressed to tackle football as soon as they were old enough.

“It’s always been part of my life,” Brandon said.

Brandon played under his father while he was in seventh- and eighth-grade football, and when he wasn’t playing he watched his brother, Ryan, play. Ryan became Zimmerman Thunder’s captain in 2009.

“It was fun watching him, and he was a good role model,” Brandon said.

This year, however, has been Brandon’s year to shine. The season got off to a great start with a big win over Cambridge. It was especially sweet because Zimmerman had left for a new conference, but Cambridge had talked the school into a rematch.  The Bluejackets hoped for revenge but didn’t get it when the Thunder beat them 12-7 on Sept. 1.

The Thunder have been especially tough at home. They are 13-1 in their last 14 home games. Brandon says the fans can be proud of that, because they are a big reason for the success.

“This is becoming a football community,” Jon said. “There has been so much support.”

Zimmerman had a bleacher full of fans for the Oct. 7 game at Fergus Falls. The team’s win over St. Cloud Cathedral helped clinch the conference title.

“This is something that will be cool to be remembered by,” Brandon said.

Zimmerman closed out the regular season drubbing Princeton and went on to win their first two playoff games over Melrose and Foley. Last night they were to square off against Annandale in the section finals. Visit for the results.

Brandon does not plan to continue playing football in college, but he does have plans to pursue a degree in pre-med at Concordia Moorhead with the goal of someday becoming a doctor — possibly an emergency room doctor.
Football, however, might find its way back into his life.

“Dad would be proud of his football legacy,” Jerry Smith said.