People in Piedmont have known for a long time that Steve Smith is a difference maker. Now the rest of the Alabama knows, too. Over the weekend, the Alabama High School Athletic Association and the Alabama High School Athletic Directors and Coaches Association announced the six recipients, one from a school in each AHSAA classification, of the ‘Making A Difference Award’ for 2014.

Smith, who has just completed his eighth year as head football coach and athletic director at Piedmont High School, is the winner in Class 3A. The award was established in 2011 in order to recognize those coaches, teachers or administrators who do far more than their job descriptions require them to do for their students, schools and communities.

“Characteristics considered for this prestigious award include the recipient’s character, integrity and service, all of which have enabled these individuals to have a life-changing impact on the community or school,” AHSAA executive director Steve Savarese said in a release accompanying the announcement.

Savarese said Smith and the other five award winners “are tremendous role models for their students, faculty and community. They are indeed excellent examples of what this award stands for. Each has made a major difference in their communities and schools. This award is the most important honor a professional educator in our state can receive.”

Some of the accomplishments in Smith’s time at Piedmont are obvious. Following the Bulldogs’ 2009 Class 3A state football championship, a renewal of pride in the school’s football program led to a move to build a state-of-the art home grandstand and playing field. While Smith’s football program benefitted he took his position as athletic director seriously and oversaw the construction of new, on-campus stadiums for softball and baseball as well as up-graded facilities for basketball, volleyball and wrestling.

Improvements in facilities are easy to see. What many people don’t see is the time Smith invests in a continuing effort to secure college scholarships for student athletes at Piedmont.

Smith arrived in Piedmont after serving 11 seasons as head football coach at Cedar Bluff. His 2006 team made the playoffs with a 7-3 regular-season record but lost in the first round. For the past seven seasons, Piedmont has won at least 10 games and at least one playoff game each year.

In college, Smith played for Jacksonville State’s Bill Burgess, lettering in 1989, 1990 and 1991. He then spent a year as a student assistant under Burgess and Burgess remains a fan of the former Cherokee County High School quarterback.

One of the things Smith did to impress Burgess was his work with the scout team, simulating an opponent’s offense.

“He could take the offense that we were trying to get ready to play and take our scout team and make them execute it exactly the way we were going to see it on Saturday,” Burgess recalled.

When Smith’s playing days ended, Burgess wasn’t ready for him to leave the Gamecocks’ football program.

“We kept him on as a student coach and sooner or later, if I’d have had a place, I’d have hired that rascal,” Burgess said. “Of course, I’m glad he got to go on and do the things he’s done. He’s been a great asset to that program up there.”

“The thing about Steve was his knowledge of the game is incredible and he has the ability to teach it and the players could understand. Some people have a lot of knowledge but they can’t get it across. That’s just like not having any if you can’t teach it,” Burgess said. “The thing Steve could always do is get that across and he’s doing it now.”

“I’m just real proud of him,” Burgess concluded, adding that he’s making plans to be in Montgomery on July 25 to attend the banquet where Smith’s award will be presented to him.