Program Spotlight: Jay Smith
Dec. 7, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. - Given the quality of wide receivers at NC State in recent years, you can forgive Jay Smith if he feels as though he's gotten lost in the crowd at times.
A fifth-year senior from Norfolk, Va., Smith spent his first four years at State as part of a deep and talented corps of pass catchers, a group that has included at various times the likes of Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, T.J. Graham, Darrell Blackman, John Dunlap and Donald Bowens, plus two-time all-conference tight end George Bryan.
When Smith arrived in Raleigh in the fall of 2007, he was a heralded four-star recruit from Norfolk's Lake Taylor High School, but he learned quickly how little those four stars were going to help him to climb such an imposing depth chart. Instead, he spent the 2007 season redshirting, working with the scout team, and learning.
"I remember when I was on the scout team, I got to watch the starters run routes, and it was like a different kind of speed," Smith says. "There was a sense of urgency in everything that they did. Guys like John Dunlap and Donald Bowens, all those guys, just seeing how quick they were going in and out of their routes, I said I'm going to get to the point where I can do that."
Smith did more than learn to play football that `07 season. He used the redshirt season as an opportunity to grow up. Only 17 and from an admittedly troubled family background, Smith needed that redshirt year to mature and acclimate himself to college life, both on and off the football field.
"I really don't think I was mentally or physically ready to handle the things that I'm able to handle now," Smith says. "I didn't necessarily know that then. Looking back on it, I know it a lot better now. I was 17. I had my family situation and my mind wasn't focused on the things I needed to be focused on. I still gave it 100 percent to do football activities."
Of the aforementioned receivers, only Graham and Bryan are still around for 2011. Smith moved into the starting lineup for keeps this season, yet even as a starter, he has found it difficult at times to get his share of the action in the passing game.
That's not to say that Smith hasn't had a good season because he has. Heading into the Pack's bowl game against Louisville, he has caught 36 passes for 347 yards and four touchdowns. He ranks third on the team in receptions and receiving yards. He is tied for second in touchdown catches.
Despite the roster turnover of recent years, the Wolfpack offense has been strong again in 2011, especially the receivers. Graham is having a big year, and fourth-year junior Tobias Palmer is having a breakout season. Running back James Washington has been a favorite target of quarterback Mike Glennon as well. Smith fits right in, but more as a fourth option.
Some may have envisioned more for Smith -- he would probably count himself in that group -- but he's making a contribution to a winning team and is satisfied with that.
"The opportunities that I've had," Smith says, "and that's all football is, taking advantage of your opportunities, I feel that I haven't capitalized on every single one of them like I would like to, but that's life. That's how we have to deal with it. I've done my best on each and every one of them. That's all I can ask of myself, to come out and practice hard and go into the game and put to work what I've been doing in practice."
Entering the Belk Bowl, Smith has appeared in 48 games and made 14 starts. He has caught 58 passes for 558 yards and five touchdowns. He's already played in two bowl games aand lookinf forawrd to his third on December 27. Not a bad career, but at the end of the day today, it could all be over. And that's the part that's hard to grasp.
"It went by super fast," Smith says. "My five years here, it went by slow in the beginning, but now that it's my senior year it's like, wow, I'm really here, it's my last year. It's mind-blowing, but at the same time I just have to play the hand that I'm dealt. This is the year when I've been able to start and really contribute to my team, and I've tried to do my best and take advantage of that."
Smith's mother and father, Dorothy and Mordecai Smith Sr., his younger brother Matthew and sister Michelle were all in attendance to watch Jay's final game at Carter-Finley in the comeback win over Maryland, and to take part in the senior day pregame ceremony.
"They've been there since day one," Smith says. "For them to be able to walk me out on senior day, and for my father to be able to walk me out on senior day, that's a big emotional day."
Smith isn't sure where football may take him after this season, but he'll ride that wave until it crests. Once he's gone as far in football as his abilities will take him, he'll get on with the rest of his life, and he'll be ready when that day comes.
Thoughtful, soft-spoken and intelligent, Smith has done more than take care of business on the football field in his time in Raleigh. He came to State with his academic path already mapped out and has followed it diligently. Because of one last class that conflicts with football practice this fall, he will graduate in June with a degree in arts application.
"I really wanted to major in architecture when I got here, but they have studio hours you have to fulfill and different things you have to do that are very time-consuming," Smith said. "I just had to pick a different major where I could do a lot of the same kinds of things and where I could focus on football a little more. Being able to take that major, I'll be able to go to grad school and not have to go as many years than if I'd majored in something else. I can start from a reasonable position where I can get that degree too."
So just as he's had his academic path planned out, Smith has his after-football career path laid out as well.
"I really want to do either landscape architecture, or drawing and constructing houses, either one," he says. "I saw a blueprint when I was little and it really grabbed my attention. Ever since then, I've been trying to get into that. I can draw really well. I wouldn't mind working doing illustrations or graphic design. I have no idea at this point. I just want to see where it takes me."
The Smith family will be back in June for the commencement exercises, and if all goes according to Smith's blueprint, that also will be an exciting, emotional and satisfying day.
"That will be a big step for me, a big accomplishment," Smith says of his pending graduation. "It means a lot. I know everybody goes through different things, but all the stuff that I've been through to shape me to be the person that I am, it's been a little rough, and to be able to come out and graduate, and to contribute to the team this year, it's big. And both my parents being here, it's been a big year for me, besides just football."
By Bruce Winkworth