Imhotep senior Tykee Smith is an imposing athlete, a 5-foot-11, 193-pound safety who runs fast, hits hard, and more important, always seems to be in the right place. He also plays a variety of offensive positions — receiver, wildcat quarterback, and running back — but it appears his future is on defense.
Smith is considered among the best prospects in Pennsylvania. Last season, he had 55 tackles, four interceptions, three forced fumbles, three sacks, and four tackles for losses as Imhotep went 12-2 and advanced to the PIAA Class 4A state final before falling to Erie Cathedral Prep. On offense, he was a big-play performer with 469 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 42 carries and nine receptions for 247 yards and five scores.
Smith is in big demand. At the beginning of the summer, he had more than 24 scholarship offers but had narrowed his list to six schools: West Virginia, Maryland, Syracuse, Baylor, North Carolina, and Michigan State. His physical attributes will fit well at any school, and so will his mental approach to the game. Those who know him best say his preparation is off the charts. And he is so effective and versatile because he understands what every player on the field is supposed to do.
Nick Lincoln, Imhotep head coach: "He is one of the best coming out of here, which is a big statement because of the number of guys we have had in the past. The thing about him is he can kind of do it anywhere on the field. Last year, we lined him up at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, strong safety. He played some linebacker. Probably could play cornerback. He could probably play guard if we needed him to. He just does everything he can to make sure his team is in a good position to win."
Mark Schmidt, Imhotep assistant coach: "His overall football knowledge, I would rate him in the top two or three I ever coached. He just understands football and cares about it. He watches film, and when he sees formations in practice more than once. you never fool him twice. He is that kind of kid."
Kevin Norris, Imhotep defensive line coach: "Tykee is very aware of his opponent. Sunday night, Tykee will be watching his opponent about a good four to five hours on his own, and that is before we get to the school to watch them as a team. And he can tell you who the best and weakest players are, where to attack, where not to attack, what we can and can't run. He can tell you what they are going to do, what their tendencies are. Tykee is a very good film-room guy as well as a weight room and field guy. He is an all-around football player."
Smith: "I do a lot of film study, and I make sure I know what everybody is doing on the field."
Carl Jones, Imhotep running back: "If we need him in a big game, he really shows up. He is not scared of anybody and has the mind-set to dominate on every play."
One game that highlights Smith's skills came last year in a state semifinal victory over Bethlehem Catholic. Smith had played limited offense during the season, mainly as a wildcat quarterback. When the running-back situation became depleted — Panthers star Isheem Young had been arrested in a robbery earlier that day and was awaiting arraignment — Smith was employed extensively that game. Even though he didn't start, Smith saw plenty of action and ended up rushing for 253 yards and five touchdowns in a 34-14 win.
Lincoln: "We were teaching him the position before the game in terms of our running lanes. He is an athlete, and he gets it. But he didn't know our plays necessarily and still rushed for [more than] 250 yards and five touchdowns and took the game over."
Smith: "Playing running back was different reading the blocks than when I played wildcat quarterback. I had to learn the running back plays about 15 minutes before game time."
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Bethlehem Catholic coach Joe Henrich: "He was not a kid in that position leading into the game. Coming into that game, we planned for other guys. They moved him to the backfield, and he went off. From my standpoint, he is the kind of kid you want on your team. You put him in anywhere, and he is going to perform for you. Unfortunately, it came against us. He is a great football player, and I talked to recruiters about him."
Norris: "He hadn't played running back. He played a play here and there in the wildcat. That game he kind of went in, and because he knows where the linemen are supposed to block, he knows where the ball is supposed to go. His football IQ and instinct just took over, and it was like an out-of-body experience for him. He dominated like the best player in the state, as he is."
Smith: "I didn't know how many yards I had. I was just playing, trying to get a 'W.' But I was tired and hoping the game would get over in a hurry."
It has often been said of standout players that they have "a nose for the ball." That is certainly the case for Smith and a reason he could line up at free safety or strong safety in college.
Lincoln: "He has a great thickness to his build. He tracks the ball well. He is dynamic with the football. Some schools talked to me about him being a kick returner and also play some on offense, but they all like his defensive ability. Coaches I have talked to indicate that he would be able to earn a nickel spot or a safety spot early in his career."