More often than not, Traion Smith left fans searching for the right words to describe what they just watched the Cameron Yoe running back do over the course of a game’s 48 minutes. And, more often than not, there weren’t enough to illustrate the spectacular.
Today, everyone is speechless.
Smith, 22, and his cousin Desmond Williams, 30, drowned Sunday afternoon during a fishing accident, Milam County officials said Monday.
Stunned. Shocked. Saddened. Speechless.
Tragedy never makes sense. And in a year in which the human fortitude has been challenged over and over again, Smith’s death is another unwanted reminder that life is the most fragile gift we’re afforded. It’s precious. It’s fleeting. And, God, it is hard sometimes.
I didn’t get the opportunity to meet Williams, another former and seemingly highly regarded Yoe athlete, but I express my condolences to his family and friends. Smith, however, was the first player I conducted a postgame interview with after joining the Telegram about four days earlier. It was after he produced 240 yards on 13 carries, including a 99-yard touchdown run among his six scores during the 2015 season-opening win over Waco Connally.
I ended up speaking with Smith about a dozen times that season. He was the proper mix of confident and unassuming, and he relished being a part of Yoemen tradition.
“There’s Cameron Yoemen in me,” he said in 2015. “Born and raised.”
The Cameron community certainly will mourn the loss of one of its beloved for days, weeks, months and years to come.
This was a young man already dealt a difficult hand when, as a senior, he suffered a career-ending leg injury during the second quarter of the 2015 Class 3A Division I state championship game against Brock.
It was going to be his final high school game anyway — and Yoe’s fourth straight appearance in a title tilt, having won the previous three — but the painful, unexpected and, really, unfair end didn’t fit the right script for one of this region’s most heralded athletes. His name was known across the state, and the support poured in from every corner. He wanted to play again. He tried. It didn’t work out.
Even though he didn’t get to exit football the way he and everyone imagined, Smith’s prowess — his powerful yet almost effortless dominance on the football field — was never far from the tips of tongues if the topic was Yoe football.
But Smith’s impact, at least during his playing days, seemed to go beyond career rushing numbers of 7,371 yards and 113 touchdowns — 2,932 yards and 49 TDs of those during his senior season after which he was named the Associated Press Sports Editors offensive player of the year for Class 3A.
“He’s a really good kid. There are a lot of us that think that way about him. He motivates everyone. He’s very much a leader,” Yoe High School teacher Suellen Reyes said of Smith during a 2015 interview.
Across social media late Sunday night and all of Monday, former teammates, coaches and even opponents relayed heartfelt messages of grief and offers of prayers. But there is only so much that can be said.
When Smith was being tended to after his injury, NRG Stadium fell completely silent for several minutes before the Yoemen faithful started to call out, “Traion. Traion. Traion.”
Today, many quietly pause once more.
“I think to myself, if that kid knew (as a freshman) the impact he was going to make on this program. Nobody knew it,” then-Yoe head coach Rick Rhoades said in 2015, a few days before the championship game. “He’s just a great kid. I’ve had the honor of coaching him the last four years. He works hard. He’s a yes, sir, no, sir guy. Teachers love him. The people in the community love him. He’s just that type of kid.”
Traion. Traion. Traion.