NFL player Harrison Smith giving back to Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart Cathedral School alumnus Harrison Smith, who plays in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings, is greeted by Vikings fans Jill and Phil Perkins of Knoxville. The Perkinses, natives of London, England, joined Mr. Smith at a benefit for Sacred Heart Cathedral School on Feb. 25. Photo by Dan McWilliams

Sacred Heart Cathedral School alumnus Harrison Smith, who plays in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings, is greeted by Vikings fans Jill and Phil Perkins of Knoxville. The Perkinses, natives of London, England, joined Mr. Smith at a benefit for Sacred Heart Cathedral School on Feb. 25.
Photo by Dan McWilliams

More than 200 people welcomed home a famous alumnus of Sacred Heart Cathedral School on Feb. 25 during “An Evening With Harrison Smith,” featuring the Minnesota Vikings safety fresh off an outstanding rookie season in the NFL.

The sold-out event benefited the SHCS Annual Fund, which provides for expenses not covered by tuition, such as technology, faculty development, and building maintenance.

The event was emceed by ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch, a Sacred Heart Cathedral parishioner. The evening included a welcome and prayer by Bishop Richard F. Stika, dinner, a video featuring SHCS students and staff talking about Mr. Smith, a 30-minute question-and-answer session with Mr. Smith and Dr. Punch, and a talk by Annual Fund chairs Chris and Melanie Pollock. Mr. Smith posed for photos and signed autographs for several minutes before dinner and well after the Q&A finished.

Mr. Smith, also an alum of Knoxville Catholic High School and the University of Notre Dame, called the event “very humbling and very flattering.”

“I’m excited to be a part of it,” he said. “I’m glad they asked me.”

Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith, a Sacred Heart Cathedral School alumnus, appears with ESPN personality Dr. Jerry Punch during a Q&A session at the Sacred Heart Cathedral School benefit. Photo by Dan McWilliams

Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith, a Sacred Heart Cathedral School alumnus, appears with ESPN personality Dr. Jerry Punch during a Q&A session at the Sacred Heart Cathedral School benefit.
Photo by Dan McWilliams

Mr. Smith made 104 tackles as a rookie for the Vikings and returned two of his three interceptions for touchdowns. He helped the Vikings post a 10-6 record and reach the wildcard round of the playoffs, where they lost to Green Bay.

“It was a good year individually, and as a team we also had a good year,” Mr. Smith said. “Obviously, the goal is to win the Super Bowl, and we fell a few games short of that, but definitely the Vikings were improved this year, and that’s the goal going forward: to get better.”
Mr. Smith already is eager for his second season to begin.

“At first I was tired, ready to kind of slow down and take a break, but now I’m kind of getting antsy to go back and start playing again,” he said. “Once you get that first year under your belt, you kind of know what it’s like, and then next year there won’t be so many question marks. I’ll know what to expect going into it and hopefully just improve from that point.”

The 2003 graduate of Sacred Heart can easily recall his days there.

“I remember everything about going to school here,” Mr. Smith said. “I can go through all my teachers from kindergarten up, and I remember going to class, obviously, doing the afterschool program, recess. I even went to Boy Scouts here at one point, so I’ve been going here, going to church on Sundays, ever since I was little.”

During the Q&A, Mr. Smith revealed that social studies was his favorite class at SHCS. Dr. Punch pointed to a banner on the gym wall honoring the 2002 SHCS boys basketball team, which went 25-3 and won a state championship with Mr. Smith on the roster.

Mr. Smith was asked about his decision to go to Notre Dame, even though Tennessee and others were heavily recruiting him, too. He said that one factor was that Notre Dame reminded him of a bigger SHCS or KCHS. Mr. Smith served as a captain for the Fighting Irish and started 47 of his 51 games at Notre Dame.

When asked about his appearance in the 2012 Senior Bowl, where the coaches included Minnesota Vikings staffers, Mr. Smith said he didn’t realize during the bowl game how much the Vikings liked him. He said that when he was drafted, as the 29th pick overall in the first round, he learned that the Vikings had wanted him ever since the Senior Bowl.

Mr. Smith wears No. 22, and he told the Sacred Heart audience that he wore it from his Sacred Heart days through KCHS and college and on to the NFL. The number also has been worn by his father, Mr. Smith said. Minnesota legend Paul Krause wore No. 22, but the Vikings allowed Mr. Smith to use the number.

Joni Punch, SHCS director of development and admissions, announced during the evening that a Harrison Smith Scholarship would be established at the school.

“It will be a $2,500 scholarship that will go to a current Sacred Heart student who exhibits leadership, character, and academic performance,” said Pam Rhoades, communications director for Sacred Heart Cathedral and School.

An NFL football autographed by Mr. Smith went for $175 in a silent auction.

Dr. Punch has been a fan of Mr. Smith for many years.

“I got a chance to move to the community and watch Harrison through high school and saw that not only was he a great role model on the field, he was also a tremendous role model off,” he said. “He was a great student, and when you talk to Harrison and you get to know his family, you realize it all started by going to Catholic school. It all started by being a student at Sacred Heart Cathedral School because here he understood it’s about faith, it’s about family, and then it’s about future.

“At Sacred Heart, he was 5 feet, 9 inches tall and weighed 125 pounds, but they made him understand that if you believe in yourself and you have faith, that it can take you so far in life, and that’s what happened in high school and that’s what happened at Notre Dame and now in the NFL.”

Dr. Punch said it was “so nice of Harrison and his family to agree to do this” event at Sacred Heart.

“Harrison is a very private and very shy individual, and you would think that someone who has been captain of the Notre Dame football team and one of the leading rookies in the NFL would be very outgoing, but he leads by example and so it’s hard for him to come here and do this,” Dr. Punch said. “But he says, ‘I want to give back. If it wasn’t for Sacred Heart and Knoxville Catholic High School, I wouldn’t be where I am today,’ so it says a lot about who he is.”

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