Patience, resolve lead to breakout campaign for UCM's Arkell Smith

Oct. 5—Arkell Smith spent his first three years with the Central Missouri football team waiting for his time.

For a former multiple-sport standout at Carthage High School, playing the waiting game was an unfamiliar experience. At times, it was difficult to be patient.

"Honestly, it was kind of hard," Smith said. " There were moments where I really didn't know if it was for me. There were moments where I questioned what I was doing. But looking back on it, I think it was the best thing for me. I grew a lot as a person. I got to be behind a lot of great football players and learn from them. So at the time I was frustrated, but now as I look back on it, I'm glad it happened that way."

And now, Smith's time has arrived.

A redshirt sophomore for the Mules, Smith is coming off back-to-back breakout performances as he's established himself as one the team's top passing targets.

It started in a Week 4 tilt against No. 16 Nebraska-Kearney when he logged a pair of catches for 58 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown reception in the opening quarter that marked his first career TD with UCM.

Then on Saturday, the 6-foot-1 wide receiver hauled in seven passes for 133 yards and three TDs, scoring on gains of 14, 21 and 29 yards in an eventual 41-10 win over Northeastern State.

"It feels good to finally get out there," Smith said. "It's something I've been working toward for three years now. To finally get out there and get my opportunity and make the most of it, it just feels amazing."

Smith now has 302 receiving yards and a team-high four TDs on 18 catches this season. He's averaging a whopping 16.8 yards per catch while ranking third in the MIAA in TD receptions, seventh in receiving yards and eighth in total receptions.

A quick rise? Yes.

A surprise? Not so much to the people who watched him during his high school days.

"You knew it was just a matter of time with Arkell," Carthage head football coach Jon Guidie said. "He's just so athletic and has great ball skills. I think he just needed an opportunity, to be honest. He stayed with it the past couple of years, and it probably frustrated him at times because of the lack of playing time. But when he got his chance, you knew he was going to do something special."

Smith was a two-time all-state selection for CHS in football, helping the Tigers claim back-to-back district championships as well as a Central Ozark Conference championship in 2016. He was also an all-state honoree in track and field and an all-district performer in basketball.

"A lot of people might not know that he didn't play football in his freshman and sophomore years," Guidie said. "We didn't get him out till his junior year even though we had been working on him for a while. We knew he had talent, and it didn't take him long to make an impact for us. He had two outstanding years. He's one of the most explosive players we've had over the years."

"Some people have been a little surprised by the last couple of weeks. But a lot of people who knew what I was doing and knew my story and how much I was working and waiting, they weren't surprised at all," Smith said. "I've gotten a lot of texts and messages on social media from people who say they are proud of me. It means a lot, and it's just part of the reason the patience over these last few years has been worth it."

Smith and UCM play Emporia State this Saturday in Warrensburg. Then on Oct. 16, the Mules will be in Joplin to take on Missouri Southern.

Contact Jared Porter on Twitter at @JaredRyanPorter.