Air Force 1 High On Feet

Air Force 1 High On Feet

Landon Kuenzi, a 5 foot 9, 175 pound senior who played fullback and linebacker, was not a starter. He didn't need to be. His tenacity earned him the respect of his teammates. He had a hard nosed football style from playing game after game of tackle ball against his father and five brothers in a mud pit on the family's farm. Two of his younger brothers Derrick and Shane were also on the team. They played the same way.

Three years after his death, Landon Kuenzi's message lives on.

Air Force 1 High On Feet

Kuenzi would give Smith rides to and from practice.

Brett Smith puts on a pair of headphones and thumbs a website address into his iPhone.

"I didn't really know anybody," Smith said. "Landon was the guy that reached out to me."

Wyoming's star quarterback watches it before every game, until the photos fade to black and this quote takes their place:

"If I needed something, he was always there," Smith said. "If I was upset about something, he would always be more than willing to talk about it."

Air Force 1 High On Feet

West Salem coach Shawn Stanley knew some of his players saw the new quarterback as a threat.

In one photo, the teenager dives headfirst into an opposing running back. In another, he cradles a football in his right hand while stiff arming a defender with his left. Seconds later in the montage, the boy looks over his shoulder as he runs to catch a pass Smith lofts his way.

Smith soon became close friends with the other Kuenzi brothers and his teammates, but his relationship with Landon Kuenzi was different. For Smith, the connection reminded him of the relationship he has with his older brother, Kyle.

Air Force 1 High On Feet

Art Kuenzi, Landon's father, saw what the two unlikely friends shared.

The Smith family moved to the West Salem school district in northwest Oregon the summer before Brett Smith's freshman year. The new house was only 10 miles from the family's previous home on the south side of the city. But all the faces at football practice were unfamiliar.

´╗┐late friend Kuenzi's message lives on

This is when Smith will start to cry.

The next morning, the local newspaper ran a photo of Kuenzi. The story published underneath focused on a reserve linebacker and a freshman quarterback.

Air Force 1 High On Feet

But there was a player on Stanley's team who eased Smith's transition.

"Before the game, I Nike Air Force 1 Grey And Blue

kind of knew I was going to play," Smith said. "I remember Landon coming over and saying, 'Hey man, I have confidence in you. You're going to do awesome. Just relax.'"

Landon Kuenzi had chiseled pieces of playing time as the season progressed. The West Salem linebackers he competed against were usually four inches taller and 40 pounds heavier. But Stanley realized the oldest Kuenzi on his team had a toughness the Titans needed on the field.

Kuenzi blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown that night. He also led the team in tackles. Smith came into the game after halftime. He completed one pass, then another, then another. His most important one went to his senior mentor in the back of White Nike Air Force 1 Low

the end zone for a two point conversion.

Air Force 1 High On Feet

"That helped bond those guys," Stanley said. "It was their first time in prime time Friday night, and they both stepped up and played."

"Landon had great instincts," Stanley said. "Because of those instincts, he was maybe a step ahead of his actual speed or athletic ability. He Nike Air Force 1 Low Top White

The freshman and senior were both undersized players who would need hard work and some luck to play much in 2007.

"Landon was coming from the standpoint that he knew what it was like to be the underdog," Art Kuenzi said. "He kind of took Brett in."

"I hope my example will inspire other kids to play with heart. That's all it took."

Air Force 1 High On Feet

had Air Force 1 High On Feet such great will, and he just seemed to make plays. He wouldn't back down from anybody. He was country tough. He didn't care how big you were."

Their big chance came late in the season when West Salem played McKay for a conference championship.

Air Force 1 High On Feet

On his smartphone's screen, a slideshow begins, followed by a somber melody. The photos show a shaggy haired, undersized high school football player making one big play after another. He wears No. 40.

"I was worried about how that was going to work out," Stanley said.

Air Force 1 High On Feet

Kuenzi was told he would start for the first time. It just so happened that West Salem's starting quarterback was injured before the game. It appeared Smith and Kuenzi would get their first chance to play together.

In the car, they would talk about how bad they wanted to play.

Air Force 1 High On Feet

"When I watch that, it really kind of hits me," Smith said. "It takes me back. It helps me remember him and makes me think of his whole family."

Air Force 1 High On Feet

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