Buccaneer defensive back Dwight Smith shared the story of his triumph over scholastic difficulties
Dwight Smith, third-year defensive back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is trying to make the switch from cornerback to free safety this season. On Friday, Smith visited with a group of kids who are going through some difficult transitions of their own. Smith met these young men and women, ages 10 to 16, at the National Youth Sports Program, where he was a featured speaker.
Smith caused a stir among the younger campers, all dressed in shorts and blue NYSP t-shirts, when he entered the Eckerd College gym on Friday morning. Camp leader Joe Carella hushed the crowd by introducing the man who had returned two Rich Gannon passes for touchdowns during the Buccaneers inspiring victory in Super Bowl XXXVII.
The NYSP is a program that teaches underprivileged children about sports, job responsibilities, career opportunities, sound health and nutritional practices and the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Each child receives a free medical examination and daily USDA-approved breakfasts and lunches.
"We have a reading component, we have a math/science component, we have opportunities to participate in sports and learn the foundations of positive interactions in a team dynamic," said Joe Smith, Activity Director for NYSP program at Eckerd College, ticking off some of the camps features. "We have school teachers, principals, doctors, nurses, police officers and businessmen and women volunteering their time to make sure these kids have a positive summer at the college."
Sporting an authentic Barry Sanders game jersey, Smith addressed the students about the importance of school and the role that teachers and coaches can play in a person's life. The Detroit native shared the story of his own educational difficulties, admitting that, early on, he constantly skipped class and blew off assignments, ignoring everyone's advice and pleadings.
"I wanted to do things my way," said Smith, "even if I knew they were wrong."
On the day Smith found out he was ineligible to play football his sophomore season due to his awful freshman-year grades, everything changed, thanks in part to a special coach who came into Smith's life. This mentor told the young student/athlete that he didn't want him to simply get his eligibility back by passing the required summer courses. He told Smith he would need to make straight A's in order to earn playing time on his team. Smith accepted the challenge head on and became an honors student at Central High School.
"At first I didn't want to go to school," said Smith. "But coach made me and now I know that he did it for me, to make me a better person. Now I realize that without achieving success in the classroom, you can never achieve success on the playing field."
Following his heartfelt speech, Smith played catch with the students and – after numerous requests – allowed them a close-up look at his Super Bowl ring. With the end of the camp day rapidly approaching, the Buc safety then hustled over to the buses to talk to the older campers.
Hurried to deliver an important message before the students boarded, Smith implored them to have multiple options for success and not to bank their future solely on athletics. An injury can end an athletic career at any time, he explained, but an education will always leave you with options.
"To hear the enrichment that he brings to the campers, discussing the importance of education, the importance of life experience and talking about goals and working for what you believe in, all of those things are very important, especially for the population were dealing with," said Smith. "This is one of the highlights of the kids' summer. To see someone that is a professional athlete come out and give back to the community is always positive."