New York Jets QB Geno Smith, a former Mountaineer, got the star treatment from Jay-Z's "Life+Times" series, as a video crew followed Smith around Miami and New York City this summer to piece together a "Where I'm From" video.
It's well worth the 24 minutes if you've got 'em, but here's a written synopsis with a few of the highlights.
The video starts in Miami and shows Smith going to several familiar childhood spots. There's his mother's current home, his high-school field, a pee-wee field, his grandmother's house and then his childhood home.
“Growing up in neighborhoods where crime rates were extremely high and drugs were a part of daily life," Smith said, "there’s just so much that you can witness at an early age. I’ve seen a number of people be murdered. It’s changed my life; I cherish life; I cherish people, because you’re not going to be here forever.
"You never know when you’re going to leave this earth.”
Miramar coach Damon Cogdell, hired just last week by West Virginia, invited Smith to speak at Miramar High School, his alma mater, to kids with the dream of following in his footsteps.
"In these neighborhoods down here, football is what kids see as their ticket out," Smith said. "They develop that hard-working mentality from just being in the neighborhoods and seeing the struggle. You try to use your gift as your vehicle."
You can't help but admire Smith's mother, Tracey Sellers, in this short film. She jokes that Smith doesn't like staying at home anymore, because she won't budge on her midnight curfew — set primarily for her two sons still at home. "Monkey see, monkey do," Sellers said.
Sellers had Smith at 17 and admits she was never too high on this whole football fame thing. Eventually, she grew to understand it.
"To see my mom's expression on her face the day I got drafted, for her it was almost like living in a dream," Smith said. "She knows how hard I worked at this and how badly I wanted to be in the NFL. ... She's my biggest fan, and she made a lot of sacrifices to put me in a position to even chase after this dream. To see all of it paying off and that her sacrifices didn't go in vain. To be able to make her smile again is a blessing."
During high school, Sellers had to install a second phone line because recruiting calls were clogging up their primarily line.
She showed off a really neat drawing Smith drew in middle school, and the film later went on to show Smith at an art gallery — art is still important to him, even in the big city.
"In high school, I didn't really hang out with the people I was supposed to hang out with," Smith said. "I hung out with the so-called nerds, the not-so-cool kids. I found interest in them because we were into the same types of things. My football friends were like, 'Why do you hang out with those guys? They're this or they're that.' I was like, "I don't see it that way. I see it as we're all people, all humans here. They're interested in one thing, and we happen to have that in common. ... I learned how to interact with all people from all walks of life."
Sellers works in finance and helps her son manage his wealth.
Smith reminisced to his first football game. His uncle Atwan had told him to get cleats, so Smith told his mom they needed to find cleats. After a trip to Payless Shoes, Smith had himself a pair of soccer cleats. He wanted football cleats, though, and so he cut up a pair of school socks and pulled them up over his shoes.
He scored a handful of touchdowns that first game, so kids started pulling socks over their shoes, too.
Smith and his mother stopped by their grandmother's home. She passed away a year ago. Smith spent his summers and weekends there, and his first training was in her back yard.
At his childhood home, Smith demonstrated how he and his two younger brothers would climb on top of their mother's van to catch a glimpse of the jumbotron at SunLife Stadium, located a mile away.
The film ended with a New York City barber trying his darndest to get insider information out of Smith, who resorted to simple clichés and non-answers ... he quite obviously just wanted to grab a quick, fresh haircut and not discuss who his favorite receiver was or give a prediction for the Jets' 2013 record.
Here's the video in full:
Stephen J. Nesbitt:
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