Instead, he says he will hear a song in his head and move his feet with that internal rhythm, often while staring at the ground.
Another thing that never changes: his race strategy. The Westside junior likes to stalk the lead runner, then burst by him with the finish line near. The game plan worked all fall for Smalley, right down to the last cross-country race of the season, when he captured the Class AAAA individual title at the state meet in Carrollton.
Smalley prevailed in a closing duel with early leader John Ewing (Lakeside-DeKalb), passing him near the end to win the 3.1-mile race by four seconds, in 16:27. The next closest runner was nearly 15 seconds behind Ewing.
"That's been his strategy all cross-country season," said Marvin Fields, Smalley's coach. "I call it drafting. He usually drafts the lead runner and at a certain point near the end, he just opens it up a little bit."
Said Smalley: "I just always have a little something left at the end of each race."
Smalley's state title capped a remarkable first year on the cross-country team. He said he couldn't run as a sophomore because of poor academics, which prevented the talented runner from backing up his reputation forged at Tutt Middle School.
Fields said the Westside team covered 31/2 miles three times a week this season, running from the school's track to Rhinehart's Oyster Bar at Washington Road multiple times.
Smalley said at least once a week he would go home and train some more.
Smalley also won Region 3-AAAA and Richmond County titles this year. He lost only one race, to Laney's Raheem Newton at Diamond Lakes in September. Fields said the defeat changed Smalley.
"That race might have been the race that turned the tide," he said. "He wasn't accustomed to losing. That may have turned the light on, because he didn't lose again.
"Competition brings out the best in his running."
At the state meet, held on a brisk November day in Carrollton, about 50 miles west of Atlanta, Smalley lingered perhaps five feet behind Ewing for much of the race. The finishing stretch forced runners to climb and then descend a bluff. About three strides up the incline, Smalley made his move. Fields remembers Smalley's legs pumping forward, with Ewing appearing to run in slow motion.
"He wasn't running as strong as he started off," Smalley said. "I could see that."
Smalley breezed down the hill to clinch his title. Amid the elation, Fields noticed something else.
"If you would have seen him at the finish line ... he still had something in him," he said.
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SCHOOL/SPORT: Westside cross country
HEIGHT/WEIGHT: 5-6, 130 pounds
NOTES: Smalley, a junior, claimed the Class AAAA individual state title in November in Carrollton, Ga., by covering 3.1 miles in 16:27. ... He also won the Richmond County and Region 3-AAAA individual champion-ships. ... He recently completed his first season running cross country for Westside after previously qualifying for the state meet in track and field (3,200 meters) as a freshman.
Q&A WITH SMALLEY
Q: Besides hard work, why have you been successful? A: Determination. That and training hard.
Q: What do you enjoy about being an athlete at Westside? A: All the attention you get after you do something. It makes you feel good.
Q: Fifty years from now, what will you remember about this decade? A: Winning a state championship for Westside.
Q: What song motivates you before competition? A: Run This Town by Jay-Z
Q: What is a Web site you visit every day? A: Facebook.com