July 17, 2009
By JERRY HILL
Baylor Bear Insider
grew up in Dallas and is headed to St. Louis as the Rams' first-round draft pick, but the 6-foot-5, 307-pound offensive tackle from Baylor made it clear that his heart is still in Waco.
"I love Waco, I love Baylor, and there's no question that I'll be coming back here for many years to come," Smith said to an estimated crowd of 200 at Thursday night's send-off reception at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce.
"I feel very privileged to be here amongst a lot of people that have seen me grow from an 18-year-old kid when I first got to Waco to a 23-year-old man that's representing Baylor and representing Waco. . . . I feel that everything I've done, I've done it the right way. So hopefully some little kid here in Waco will say, `Hey, I want to do what Jason did,' and learn more about me and change his life and do it the way I did."
The love that Smith has for Waco and Baylor is certainly reciprocated. While the Chamber hosted Thursday night's event, Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy presented the Baylor All-American a plaque that recognized July 16 as "Jason Smith Day" in Waco.
"He's so incredibly genuine. He is who he is," DuPuy said. "He's honest. And then obviously from all of his personal discipline, the hard work that it's taken and the character that goes with it. It takes character to do that, first of all, and then he continues to exhibit that. That's what impressed the NFL and all the coaches that he interviewed with. He is genuine. He is Jason Smith. And, of course, it means everything to us that he's going to be coming to Waco when he's not in St. Louis."
That's the one stipulation that DuPuy put on the plaque when she presented it to Smith: She wants it hanging in Waco.
"What an ambassador he will be as he moves around the country and reaches the people that he does and inspires young people," she said. "Just the mention of him living in Waco, Texas, is going to be huge."
Other than mandatory workouts and appearances he's had to make in St. Louis since being taken with the second pick overall in April's NFL draft, Smith has continued to live and train in Waco and has plans to buy an off-season home in Central Texas.
"There are a bunch of different options when you get to this level," said Smith, who will be back in St. Louis for the start of training camp on July 29. "An option can be here in Waco in the heat, or in California, lying on a beach thinking about football. But I'm a football player, and I've been blessed to make this far doing it a certain kind of way. That way takes place right here in Waco, Texas. And that's the way I want to continue doing it, because that's what works for me. I feel like I'm doing it the right way."
That's been one of the constants in Smith's career path since coming to Baylor in 2004 as a lightly regarded tight end from W.T. White High School in Dallas. At every step along the way, he's done it the right way.
"He epitomizes everything you look for in a person and a player," Baylor head coach Art Briles said. "He's a guy that you think, `All right, a good guy made it.' Sometimes people make it and you're thinking, `Boy, I wish that could have been somebody else.' But with Jason, you're saying the right thing worked out. We're just pumped that we had the opportunity to get around him and watch him progress and then ride this journey with him, because he's got a great journey fixing to begin. He possesses every intangible and has done things the right way. And that's what makes him special."
"What a good will ambassador for Waco!" said John Morris, Baylor's assistant athletic director for broadcasting and emcee for Thursday's reception. "He's a guy that you know you can hang your hat on and have no qualms about it. He's on the right path, and you know he's going to stay on that right path."
That path took him to Thursday's reception, which he said the city and Chamber "didn't have to do for me."
"I'm just another guy that came through Baylor. Or could have been," he said. "At the end of the day, I like to do what's right, not what's left. And this is what's right. I've done what's right up to this point. And when I'm asked to do something, I'm going to do it. That's something I've learned at Baylor. When you say you're going to be somewhere, be there. If you say you're going to do something, do it. Otherwise, don't even say you're going to do it. I'm just privileged to say that I came to Baylor and Baylor accepted me and Waco took me as a son."
In recognizing special friends and groups in the crowd, Smith made special notice of the Waco Lady Sparks basketball team from the Bledsoe-Miller Recreation Center.
"They hold a big part of my heart, and they know it," said Smith, who helped train and coach the girls' basketball team for the last three years. "They've gotten more and more disciplined the years that I've worked with them."
While Smith remained mum on any contract talks with the Rams - "Today's about Waco." - he did say that the city of St. Louis has welcomed him as well. Well, sort of.
"When I first got there, they picked me up in a limo," he said. "Now they pick me up in a cab."