MERCERVILLE, Ohio — This time last year, Mike Smith was the head football coach of players he didn't know and faced a schedule of teams of which he had no idea their location.
Now, the former Tolsia High School coach is comfortable leading the program at South Gallia.
"Absolutely," Smith enthusiastically said after being asked if he enjoyed coaching at the rural Ohio school. "Life is too short to be miserable."
The Rebels went 2-8 last year, with victories over Federal Hocking and Manchester. South Gallia might have won more had not stellar running back Jeffrey Sheets gone down with a knee injury midseason. Sheets tore two knee ligaments and required surgery, but has rehabilitated and is back on the field.
"He's a stud," Smith said of Sheets. "We're glad to have him back. He played baseball and everything held up for him, so he's good to go."
Smith is accustomed to coaching country boys. He began his coaching career in 1990 as an assistant at Gilbert High School, then joined Tolsia's staff as defensive coordinator in 1995 and stayed for five seasons before getting out of coaching for seven years. Smith spent two seasons as head coach at Tug Valley High School before spending two seasons as an assistant at Pike County Central High School in Pikeville, Kentucky. In 2011, Smith took over as head coach at Tolsia and turned a program that went 0-10 his first season into a Class AA runner-up with a 12-2 record in 2015.
When Wayne County made massive budget cuts and laid off 90 employees in 2017, Smith was one of the casualties. Smith was prepared not to coach - then his friend and Fairland head coach Melvin Cunningham called to tell him South Gallia coach Jason Peck left to coach at Hocking College and the job was open. Smith applied, was hired and said he's enjoying the position.
"Football is football and kids are kids," Smith said. "Sometimes you have athletes and sometimes you don't."
South Gallia features more athletes and experience than last year, with Tanner Dennison (6-foot-3, 300 pounds) and Austin Day (6-4, 270) joining Chad Bostick (5-10, 170) as returning starters on the offensive line. Smith said he expects Sheets to run the ball behind those big blockers more than in 2017.
"We've changed a little bit to run the ball more," Smith said. "That fits our personnel better."
It also will allow freshman quarterback Tristan Sager to gain varsity experience.
Smith said he is eager to see his team compete in the Tri-Valley Conference, of which he pegged Waterford and Trimble as the favorites to win.
"We've had a good offseason with the kids," Smith said. "I know them a lot better and they know me a lot better."
The Rebels open their season Aug. 24 at Symmes Valley.