Smithhart named West Lincoln head football coach

Published 3:50 pm Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Former St. Aloysius head coach BJ Smithhart will take over the West Lincoln High School football program as its new head coach.

The Lincoln County School Board approved Smithhart as the new coach at a meeting Monday.

The move is an opportunity Smithhart said he won’t take for granted.

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“I found late Monday night and I was elated,” Smithhart said on his reaction to being hired. “It’s a great school, great community and it’s a place I can see my kids growing up in. I’m ready to get started.”

This is the type of position Smithhart aimed for when he began his coaching career. Smithhart spent nine years as the head coach at St. Als, including two district championships and one state championship appearance for the Golden Flashes. Before that, Smithhart, a Vicksburg native, spent three years on staff at Warren Central before moving on to be offensive coordinator at Stone High School in Wiggins.

The chance to get back into coaching at a public school and build a program like he did at St. Als is an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.

“We’ve been in the same district as West Lincoln when I was at St. Als and I know the type of support they get,” Smithhart said. “I heard they’re a program that’s on the upswing and I know they’re ready to do some great things.”

Smithhart will remain at his teaching position at St. Als as a physical education teacher until the end of the school year and will be at West Lincoln in time for spring practices and workouts.

The head coaching position became vacant after the sudden death of former Lawrence County defensive coordinator and Ole Miss offensive lineman Justin Sawyer. Sawyer died the morning of Feb. 18 from a heart attack in his sleep. Sawyer was set to take over the West Lincoln head coaching position in July.

“He was a really good football coach and a great family man,” Smithhart said of Sawyer. “My prayers go to his family in such a hard time.”

Smithhart’s resume is impressive. He led the Flashes to a 14-2 record in 2014, the best in school history, and reached the state championship game for the first time since 1981.

Smithhart finished his career at St. Als with a 54-54 overall record and leaves the program after nine years as head coach.

“It’s been a great nine years with BJ,” St. Aloysius athletic director Mike Jones said. “The goal for every young coach is to move up to bigger opportunities and we knew that with BJ. We’re sad he’s leaving, but I’m happy for him with this great opportunity.”

As a husband and father of two children, the core belief in “family first” is something the Vicksburg native lives by. Living in Lincoln County and coaching at West Lincoln gives Smithhart the opportunity to extend that philosophy and build something special here.

“I want to build a family and get the kids and the community excited,” Smithhart said. “This is a place I can raise my family in and a place where I can see my kids growing up in. That’s something I’m really looking forward to.”

“He’s a great guy with a great family,” Jones said. “His decision was for his family and he’ll bring that atmosphere to West Lincoln.”

Smithhart’s defensive coordinator at St. Aloysius, Mark Fields, will take over the head coaching position for the Flashes’ upcoming season.

“You have to be ready to come to work every day, especially with a new opportunity like this,” Smithhart said. “You got to keep the practices fun and fast-paced. You have to start with a strong end goal in mind and have a plan of where you want to be when district play rolls around.”

The plan for the football coach of 15 years is to get West Lincoln their first playoff victory in school history, and hopefully many more in the future.

“We need to play to the best of our abilities and make the playoffs,” Smithhart said. “It’s a tough goal to reach, but it’s something we’re going to strive for. We’ll be ready.”