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Former Basic High, Dallas Cowboys lineman dies at 66

Don Smerek, a standout football player at Basic High who went on to a productive career with the Dallas Cowboys, died March 16 from cancer. He was 66.

Smerek was born in Waterford, Michigan, before his family moved to Henderson when he was young. He was an all-state lineman at Basic and played at UNR in the late 1970s for coach Chris Ault, earning All-Big Sky honors as a senior.

Smerek signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 1980 and spent his entire career with the team. The 6-foot-7-inch defensive lineman was known as a pass-rushing specialist with a larger-than-life personality.

After Smerek missed his rookie season because of fractured ribs suffered in training camp, he went on injured reserve with a knee injury early in the 1981 season. Four weeks later, Smerek was shot in the chest in the parking lot of a Dallas restaurant. The shooting was related to a traffic-related argument, according to an Associated Press story.

Smerek made a full recovery and went on to an eight-year career. He recorded 14½ sacks in 69 career regular-season games, serving primarily as the backup to Cowboys Hall of Fame defensive lineman Randy White and Harvey Martin.

In 1987, Smerek crossed the picket lines and played through the NFL Players Association strike. He retired at the end of the season.

Smerek also appeared in five playoff games and had one sack.

“He was a great teammate, a great person,” White told the Dallas Morning News. “He was just solid as a football player, and I can always count on him. He would come in on third downs and rush the passer, and the thing about Don as a football player, he was 100 percent.”

Smerek’s family will hold a private memorial service this month in Henderson to honor his life. He is survived by his wife, Tandi, his three brothers and his sister Debbie, as well as several nieces and nephews.

Contact David Schoen at dschoen@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on X.

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