NFL’ers Harrison Smith and Lee Smith lead camp that offers two days of instruction in gridiron fundamentals
By Dan McWilliams
The chance to be taught football skills by two NFL players was too much to pass up for 300 Knoxville-area youth July 7-8.
The Smith & Smith Football Camp drew that number of youngsters to Knoxville Catholic High School’s Blaine Stadium for two days of instruction by Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith, Oakland Raiders tight end Lee Smith, and KCHS football coaching staffers.
Harrison Smith, a graduate of KCHS and Sacred Heart Cathedral School, and his fellow NFL’er, a graduate of Powell High School, hosted the second annual Smith & Smith camp this summer. The free event was filled to capacity, forcing registration to close some time before the camp.
“It’s something that Lee Smith and myself have wanted to do for a while, and with the help of Catholic and Coach [Steve] Matthews and everybody who comes out and helps, we’ve been able to put on a good camp, and I think the kids enjoy it,” Harrison Smith said.
Lee Smith said the camp’s popularity is “great.”
“It’s great to be able to give back to the kids of the area Harrison and I grew up in,” he said. “We had dreams and aspirations to be NFL football players when we were in these same little towns and on these same Little League football teams, so it’s a lot of fun to give back to these kiddos and let them enjoy this weekend.”
Football camps can be expensive, but the Smith & Smith endeavor does not charge fees.
“That was kind of our idea behind it,” Harrison Smith said. “The only concern with that is we do a preregistration, and it fills up pretty fast. Hopefully we’ll be able to figure out how to get everybody here in the future.”
He added that the skills taught in the camp are “just the fundamentals of football, offense and defense, throwing, catching, tackling, just the proper way to get in a stance, depending on the position you’re playing, and then we always have fun toward the end of the day.
“They seem to be having fun. I think they’re a little tired today, the second day of it out here in the heat, but it’s been very good,” Harrison Smith said in an interview on a balmy July 8.
KCHS head coach Matthews said the campers worked on a variety of skills
“We try to give everybody a shot to play every position,” he said. “We do every position on offense and defense. Every single member of the camp gets a chance to participate.”
Harrison Smith, who played in college at Notre Dame, addressed an issue that has been in the national news in recent months: football player safety.
“I think that’s a personal choice for every parent, for every individual to make,” he said. “I don’t have any kids, so I don’t want to tell people what to do with theirs, but I was always glad that my parents allowed me to play football and encouraged me. It was a sport I loved to play.
“If you sign up for any sport, you need to know the dangers and things that can happen, and it just depends on your personal choice. If you’re OK with it, then go for it; if you’re not, then don’t play. I think it’s that simple.”
The KCHS grad enjoys working with Lee Smith, who played in college at Marshall.
“It’s great,” he said. “We’ve had a good relationship over the years. This is something that we both talked about doing together for a while, and we just enjoy doing it.”
Lee Smith likewise enjoys his relationship with Harrison Smith.
“He’s top-notch,” said the Powell grad. “Not only is he a great football player, but he’s a great person. His character speaks for itself. He handles himself like a true professional on and off the field, so being friends with him and being able to do this camp is rewarding.”
Smith and Smith have long held a friendly rivalry.
“He’s better than me at football, but I used to be a lot better than him at basketball way back in the day,” Lee Smith said. “That’s when our competition actually started. We’ve been buddies since we were in high school. We used to play against each other. Once we both started playing in the NFL, we started training together in the offseason and became big buddies.”
Does Harrison Smith enjoy coming back to his alma mater, KCHS?
“Absolutely — the place gets better and better every time I stop by,” he said. “It’s unbelievable the stuff they’ve got here. It’s a great place.
Harrison Smith, a Pro Bowl selection this past season, made NFL news in June after signing a five-year, $51.25 million contract extension that made him the highest-paid safety in the league.
“It’s good to have it out of the way and just focus on playing,” he said.
He said being one of the highest-paid safeties in the NFL is important:
“Really, the only way for us players to stack up and see how much our teams like us is to go off of those figures. That’s kind of what you go for. I didn’t want to go anywhere besides Minnesota. I want to stay there. I think we’ve had a good relationship. I enjoy the community and the team, and I think we’re going to be very good. I don’t want to miss out on that.”
Harrison Smith made two interceptions in 2015, one against each Manning brother, Peyton and Eli.
“It was awesome,” the safety said. “Obviously Peyton, but Eli as well, were guys that I always watched growing up and are guys that I had a lot of respect for and still have a lot of respect for. Being able to play against them and to have a keepsake from both of them is pretty neat.”
The Vikings are coming off an NFL North Division title and are gunning for another.
“We always have the same goal in mind,” Harrison Smith said. “I think we’ve got a chance to do some big things. We’ve just got to get better every day until the end of the year. [A division title is] always the plan. You’ve got to take it one day at a time. You can’t get ahead of yourself, but we have a lot of good players.”
Lee Smith said he thinks the Raiders “could be great” in 2016.
“We have a great young team, a great young quarterback,” he said. “If you don’t go into every year thinking you can win it all, there’s no way you will. We’ve got high aspirations and high goals, and we’re just going to keep working.”
The football camp drew some notables for autograph signings, including University of Tennessee standouts Alvin Kamara and Jaylen Reeves-Maybin, former UT and New York Jets quarterback Erik Ainge, and former Jacksonville lineman Daniel Baldridge. The two Smiths posed for scores of photographs and signed a slew of autographs.
“It’s been great,” Mr. Matthews said. “Harrison and Lee have been outstanding. They brought some buddies with them. For Alvin Kamara and Jaylen Reeves-Maybin to come out and spend time with these young men, it really was an outstanding camp.”
The KCHS head coach was pleased to have his assistants help him staff the camp.
“We have an outstanding coaching staff here, and they do a great job in helping us,” he said.