First published in the Oct. 14 print issue of the San Marino Tribune.
They have been best friends since kindergarten and the association between Kade Wentz and Wheeler Smith shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, their friendship is probably growing stronger, with the challenges brought forth by the pandemic and now the return of their football careers.
After graduating from San Marino High School in 2019, Smith and Wentz enrolled in Pasadena City College and immediately announced their shared intention to play football for the Lancers.
Back then, Smith, a wide receiver, started six of the team’s 10 games and along the way even caught a 25-yard touchdown pass.
Wentz similarly earned a lot of playing time during the 2019 season, splitting the signal-calling duties with a teammate.
The entire 2020 season was lost to the pandemic, but Smith and Wentz have returned to the gridiron with a vengeance.
Now the starting quarterback, Wentz through five games has completed 79 of 138 passes for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is also second on the team in rushing, having picked up 186 yards on the ground while scoring three more touchdowns.
Smith leads the club in receptions with 21 for 381 yards and four touchdowns, including a three-touchdown game against L.A. Valley College. He said that particular game was the most he had scored in a game since youth football.
Suffice to say, things are looking up for the duo.
“I love this,” said Smith, who is majoring in business and wants to go into real estate. “We are having a really good time. I love our new coach [Robert Tucker]. I love our new offense and I love our new offensive coordinator. This is great.”
Smith feels that his experience playing for legendary San Marino High School football coach Mike Hobbie gave him and Wentz a springboard toward their gridiron success.
“I definitely think so,” said Smith. “He taught us how to play with class and how to play the game of football football aside from your skills. He taught us the value of discipline and doing your do your job. And how to be coachable.”
Wentz payed football and baseball for Hobbie and appreciates his no-nonsense style. He also shares Smith’s enthusiasm for the game.
“It has been great,” he said. “I am having a lot of fun. Coach Tucker has been fantastic. He has been successful everywhere he has gone and he has been good to everyone here.”
Following two years of sharing the position with others, Wentz is glad to be the starter.
“I am more and more comfortable each week with the role and with the offense, in general,” Wentz said. “We have one of the most explosive offenses in the state.”
During his senior year at SMHS, Wentz was named to the All-Rio Hondo League first team in both baseball and football, additionally earning first team all-area designation in baseball. Smith was named to the All-Rio Hondo League first team while a junior at SMHS. Already this season, he has twice been selected PCC’s offensive player of the week.
As the San Marino grads are happy that Tucker walked into their lives, Tucker thanks his lucky stars for the QB–wide receiver duo.
“Kade is as good as they come,” Tucker said during a phone conversation this week. “He is tough, intelligent, athletic, and he can both run and throw. There is so much about him that is beyond the game. He is a great kid and a very humble person.”
Tucker remembers how the Lancers had 10 quarterbacks when he was named coach back in June.
“We had to ask kids to play other positions and Kade said he would do that if we needed him to,” Tucker said. “He is versatile but also a darned good quarterback. He is also our punter.”
Smith, the coach said, is “very athletic and sneaky fast.”
“Wheeler has great ball skills,” Tucker said. “He is also a highly competitive young man.”
Tucker pointed out the many similarities shared by Smith and Wentz.
“Both are really special and as humble as they get,” he said. “They are quiet leaders, but great leaders. It is all about their actions and the way they carry themselves. Both are also very consistent with their reactions. They are always upbeat and always have a smile on their faces. They are really solid people. They are the total package. Great students and great people. Everything you look for in a student-athlete.
“I am so glad they are here at PCC and they have very bright futures. Whatever they decide to do, they are going to be highly successful.”
Their immediate futures possibly involve “more football.” Wentz and Smith are just beginning the recruiting process and looking through a list of potential four-year schools, which — true to their humble nature — neither was compelled to publicly share. Each will have three years of eligibility remaining, including redshirt seasons they haven’t used.
Don’t be surprised if they end up wearing identical uniforms.
“I don’t know what it’s like to not play with him,” Wentz said.