Arguably Utica’s greatest athlete, Will Smith was a special player. For long time area coach, and former Indianapolis Colts scout, Art Asselta it was never a surprise the JFK Middle School alum turned into a 2004 first round pick.
“He had great straight line speed” explained Asselta during a phone interview. “He had great athletic ability to go along with being able to change directions and redirect. He just had the natural instincts as a power type of performer with strength and speed.”
It wasn’t just the tangibles that drew teams to the then Ohio State standout. Scouts were just as impressed with the guy he was off the field. “He was that type of kid you loved to have around” said the former scout. “He not only represented his family well, but he was also a good role model for the rest of the athletes in this building.”
Smith didn’t abandon Utica when the New Orleans came calling. Instead he used his new wealth to guide young area players. One of those being Nick Woodman. The now Utica College senior admitted, he didn’t understand all the buzz when the two first met.
“I don’t know it was like a glow kind of, everyone just ran to him” explained Woodman who attended Smith’s camp at the age of 15. “It was like, ‘Oh Will’. And I didn’t know football back then so I was like, ‘Will Smith Cool yea’. I thought it was the actor originally and I was like, ‘Oh no this is this is this is the guy.”
While neither knew it then, over the years the two would become close. Woodman even returned to camp as a guest speaker. And for him, that second trip is how he’ll remember the super bowl champion.
“I am going to remember him as that guy who told me not to be worried at the banquet” explained the NFL hopeful. “Last year I was one of the speakers at his banquet and I was sitting right next to him and he was like, ‘Hey don’t be nervous to talk to these guys just go out and tell them your story, tell them what’s up and you can do it.”
While Smith wont be able to offer him another pep talk, Woodman will still look to his memory for strength; “He still motivates me even though he is not here unfortunately anymore but he is still going to inspire me to do what I need to do.”
On the gridiron Will Smith was a truly remarkable player. He won the 2002 BCS championship with the Ohio State University before embarking on a decade long NFL campaign. This included a 2006 Pro Bowl selection, and winning the 2010 Super Bowl.
Will Smith was 34 years old.