Nov. 13, 2000
By Tom Kolbe
While it is easy to distinguish a major college football player as a tremendous athlete, the true qualities of that person often go unnoticed.
It is easy to realize the talents on the football field of the men who play at Notre Dame, but it is sometimes forgotten that some of those same people hold many more talents than the ability to play football.
Justin Smith is not only a top-notch athlete, but also an extraordinary person.
The senior defensive back from St. Petersburg, Fla., is much more than the player who has suited up on Saturdays for the past four seasons as a member of the Irish football team. Smith is a prime example of a true student-athlete, as he provides a genuine meaning of an aspiring person whose loyalty to his family, friends and schoolwork can characterize the ultimate devotion for his continued prosperity.
Smith's true love, besides his family and his mind, is football. He learned to play football when he was three years old and has enjoyed every minute of his football career.
"I always watched my uncles playing football when I was a kid," says Smith.
"I fell in love with the game and I also realized that God blessed me with some athletic talent. I was always determined to play football the best I could."
Throughout his childhood Smith had always dreamed of playing football at Notre Dame. While at Lakewood High School, Smith idolized former standouts and Notre Dame alums Pat Terrell and Tom Carter and envisioned himself playing for Notre Dame as well.
"I have always wanted to play football at Notre Dame," says Smith.
"It is a dream come true and I am so happy that I had the opportunity to come here."
After being recruited to Notre Dame as a receiver, Smith was switched to the defensive backfield prior to his sophomore season at Notre Dame. He embraced the change as a new challenge and decided to be the best in whatever position he played.
"The coaches felt I would be better as a defensive back," says Smith.
"I welcomed the challenge and decided that I would do whatever I could to help this team."
Now in his third season as a defensive back, Smith now feels comfortable at the safety position where he recently made a touchdown-saving tackle against Navy.
"I feel I have made a successful transition," says Smith.
"And I view myself as being in position to make a contribution to this team."
While having the opportunity to play football for the Irish, Smith also fulfilled another dream when deciding on Notre Dame. His desire for a good education was about to be accomplished.
"I have been blessed with a lot of athletic talent," says Smith.
"I view myself as an intellectual person who just so happens to have some football ability. But that will not last forever. My mind will always be there for me and I intend to take full advantage of my opportunity to continue learning."
Smith's mother, Pamela Corbett, told him at a young age that school would be his top priority and football would come next. He can even recall a time when football was taken away from him because he did not fulfill her expectations in the classroom.
"One time I came home with a B on my report card," says Smith.
"That did not cut it with my mother. She always expected the best out of me in the classroom and I learned that learning and school is a vital component of life itself."
Another value Smith holds dearly is his deep love for his family. While being extremely close to his mother, Smith is also close to his father and sister, along with his aunts, uncles and cousins. He also mentions the fact his extended family of close friends and the people who have helped him along the way will always stay close to his heart.
I do everything to make my family proud," says Smith.
"I want to show them that I am a good kid and I appreciate everything they have done for me. I speak to my mother four to five times a week and she remains the wind beneath my wings."
Through all the ups and downs, Smith believes his life experiences will carry him and the challenge that awaits him will embrace him.
"I have gone through two knee surgeries and countless broken bones," says Smith.
"But I have always kept my head on straight. I want to be an engineer and I will always encounter a challenge and come away with a victory."
While creating opportunities for himself on the football field, Smith has opened doors for himself in the classroom as well. His long hours of hard work hitting the books at Notre Dame will pay off when he receives his degree in computer engineering in May.
That college degree will be just another reason to make his family proud and another accomplishment in a long line of a growing list of successes for Justin Smith.