NFL’s Harrison Smith leads fundraiser for Sacred Heart Cathedral School

GIVING BACK Sacred Heart Cathedral School and Knoxville Catholic High School alum Harrison Smith teams with ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch for an SHCS fundraiser appearance. Photo by Dan McWilliams

GIVING BACK Sacred Heart Cathedral School and Knoxville Catholic High School alum Harrison Smith teams with ESPN’s Dr. Jerry Punch for an SHCS fundraiser appearance. 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, 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.”

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. He was ranked among the top NFL rookies in 2012.

“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.”

Mr. Smith was asked about his decision to go to Notre Dame, even though Tennessee and other schools were recruiting him. He said a key 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.

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.

Joni Punch, SHCS director of development and admissions and wife of Dr. Punch, announced that a Harrison Smith Scholarship will 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, Sacred Heart Cathedral and School spokeswoman.

Dr. Punch has been a fan of Mr. Smith for years. “I got a chance to … 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.”

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