Douglas High football

Continuing his father’s story

Douglas High’s Chris Smalley smiles while linked arm-in-arm with his Tiger football teammates during Senior Night.

Douglas High’s Chris Smalley smiles while linked arm-in-arm with his Tiger football teammates during Senior Night.

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Christopher Smalley is just trying to continue telling his father’s story.
On Jan. 1, 2021 – just over a year ago – Smalley’s father, Rod, passed away at age 50.
Football was one of the biggest connectors between father and son.
Rod played football at UCLA before earning a stint in the NFL, while Chris is coming off signing his National Letter of Intent to play at the University of Nevada, Reno next fall.
As far back as first grade, Chris can remember his father on the sideline for his football games, starting out at the flag level.
Until his passing, Rod had never missed one of Chris’s football games.

“Last year (spring 2021), I absolutely hated it. We’d pray before every game and I’d always get teary-eyed. I still do,” said Chris. “I kind of started playing for him. I still obviously play for myself, but that whole spring season I was playing for him. Everything I did, I thought of him.”

Chris still has a photo of his dad playing at UCLA above his bed and says it helps him think back to all the conversations they would have.  

(A younger Chris Smalley, right, holds up a fish alongside his late father, Rod. / Courtesy)

Chris’ junior season lasted all of five games, due to the season being pushed to spring because of COVID-19.
His senior season was even shorter, stepping on the field for all of four plays before breaking his arm with his first carry against Galena.
However, Chris’ senior season he was accompanied on the sideline by his younger brother, Cole.
A sophomore, Cole Smalley never experienced playing the varsity ranks with his father on the sideline.
From there, Chris felt it was his responsibility to instill his father’s teaching in Cole.

“He was super sad knowing that dad would never see him play. I just wanted to help him like my dad helped me,” said Chris. “He didn’t listen to me all the time because he’s 16. I was just trying to help him out and support him as much as I could.”

While Chris was on the sidelines, Cole quickly became a natural fit at linebacker like his older brother and father.

In fact, Chris thought Cole actually outplayed him as a sophomore.  

“When I was a sophomore, I wanted to hit kids hard, but Cole always hits kids hard,” Chris said. “I think he did better than I did as sophomore, so I was super proud of him the entire season.”

(A beaming Cole Smalley runs away from a defender during a tribute flag football game held in his late father’s honor on Jan. 1, 2022. / Ron Harpin)

Community support
In the days after their father’s passing, the Smalley's were inundated with phone calls and text messages from neighbors, friends, family and coaches.
With Rod’s active presence on the sideline at sporting events and his work as a truancy officer in Douglas County, his impact on those around him spoke for itself.
Chris says the coaches in his life have made a lasting impact on him.
“Besides family members, coaches have easily been the ones who have reached out to me the most,” said Smalley. “Coach (Kyle) Mays, coach (Corey) Thacker, coach (Ernie) Monfiletto. They are always checking up on me and making sure I’m OK.”
Showing strength in the face of tragedy and trauma isn’t an easy task.
Burying anguish can be the simplest solution, even if it’s not an effective one.
However, Chris says those around him have given him an outlet to not feel like he’s on his own.
“I don’t know what I would be like without the coach’s support,” said Chris. “With coach Mays calling me and checking up on me, I can tell him stuff and not keep it bottled up.”
At Rod’s memorial, 100 orange light bulbs were handed out, but Chris said turnout was well over 100 people.
To this day, Chris says he still will see the orange light bulbs screwed in on porches around his neighborhood.
“Every time I’ll be driving at night, I’ll see one or two of them and that’s really cool,” said Chris.
The Super Burrito in town still has Rod’s photo in the restaurant to honor him and his help as a truancy officer.

Reminiscing the light-hearted moments
Their father always had a playful attitude with Chris and Cole.
Chris says even his older friends, who have since graduated, would come over to workout and the banter would commence.
Chris vividly remembers getting a little boastful with his father before a game his sophomore season, saying “I never miss tackles.”
With his dad on the near sideline, Chris missed a tackle on a tight end running a five-yard out route and ended up feet away from his father.
“I missed him and he was just sitting there laughing at me,” chuckled Chris. “I just try to think about the times he made me laugh and stuff because he was a goofy person. I just kind of think of funnier things.”
When Cole and Chris were in third and fifth grade, respectively, they joined a seventh grade Pop Warner team in need of players.
Despite being younger by several years, Chris remembers his father not pushing them for results, but instead to enjoy their time playing the game.
“He was just telling us to have fun and not worry about how you’re doing. … I think that helped a lot,” said Chris.
As Chris has helped guide Cole over the last year, he says the similarities between his late father and younger brother are astounding.
“Cole reminds me a lot of my dad. Literally everything because he’s stubborn and stuff,” said Chris.
“Cole, with pads on, looks just like Rod,” added Douglas head coach Kyle Mays.
When Cole laid out a big hit against Carson during The Rivalry Game, the two shared a moment Mays still remembers.
“Christopher was as excited as anyone on the sideline. Cole locked eyes with Christopher and was just like, ‘this is what the Smalley brothers do,’” Mays said.
While the good-hearted nature of their relationship will always be a memory for Chris, simply not having that presence next to him has been the hardest part.
“Sometimes, something will happen and I will be like, I got to go tell my dad. Then it’s, oh I can’t anymore. Just realizing I’ll never get to hug him again, talk to him again; that is the worst part,” said Chris.
On Jan. 1, the two brothers shared a field at Stodick Park where they held a tribute flag football game for their father.
Though the two won’t be able to share a field at the high school level again, Chris hopes one day he and Cole can find a way onto the same field.
He’s not sure if it’ll be on the same sideline or an opposite one, but it’s a dream for the elder brother.
“Hopefully he will get offered by UNR and we can play together up there. That would be awesome,” Chris said. “I would love to play against him, but playing with him would also be awesome.”
If the future does hold such possibilities, there’s no doubt on who will have inspired the two to get there. 

(Chris Smalley in his Douglas Tiger football uniform / Ron Harpin)


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